The Iraqi Trauma
Prepared by international team

Distressed refugees from Iraq have brought with them bizarre experiences to Europe. They told the stories in their native Arabic, then followed a translation into the language of the host country and, eventually, into English.  Human tragedy is universal.

As soon as refugees are granted status of a permanent residence, they also receive a possibility of accommodation beyond the polar circle. Nobody wants to go there. Unfortunately, the government doesn’t give them an alternative, why? It is obvious that a man coming from a foreign country, tends to look for his former countrymen and women. What does a foreigner know about the host country?  Nothing.  It is apparent that such knowledge will come in time, so why not to give them this opportunity one more time after two months, when they realise how the situation looks: that they have to fight for living and that it is not a piece of cake.

Accommodation is something essential.  Everybody has problems with accommodation.  Often a lot of people live together, sleeping on the floor. They have no place at all. In order to find an apartment they have to fight.  Children have a priority and often when the children are not OK, it is common that people try to find an apartment but they are not always successful.

Many of the repatriates are ill.  Often they have problems with asthma and blood pressure.  Asthma is caused by a sudden change of climate, probably, and high blood pressure is caused by stress and plenty of unspoken feelings that leap on them like ghosts.  Even events less horrible than war can cause this.  Medical examinations are scarce and a psychological one is not enough, once a tortured person has to wait four, six or eight months in a queue in the centre that specialises in working with such people.  What happens during that time with them?  If there is no apartment, there is no sense of stabilisation and safety.

You can always say that it is not a war, but still…. it is a fight for living for survival.  Everybody wants to a survive - individuals, nations, and citizens of nations.  Nations, religions, cultures and single man’s histories are all mixed together.

I notice that believing in a man according to the nation’s history, makes finding a job easier. It helps to keep it in perspective and shows that everybody escapes from the hell of the war.

Imam, whom I met recently is very pleased and satisfied.  He assured me that despite the war, all human disaster gives people more belief in Allah. In his opinion believing in Allah becomes stronger and stronger, and more and more people turn to Mecca.  He is convinced that Sunni Islam will unleash the global Islam. Is it true?

When someone reaches the edges of Europe from Gibraltar, the mosque is the first building he wants to find.  Further away is a Catholic church.  Is it a sign of the past or future?  May be both but … is the Imam right?  Our world has room for everything.  The mosque in Cordoba was built in the past centuries and it contains those two great religions.  The mosque itself is huge, just like the spiritual space. 

Coming to a strange country. it is a very difficult thing to come here to live, to exist. We live in a world where such changes are something natural, where cultures are mingling.  It is an every day issue but still it is a hard demanding challenge to meet other people and to find yourself in the meeting with others.

It is not easy to receive in a foreign country, time acceptance and understanding. A new country does not show or open its mysteries without effort. One needs to go through a lot of pain before being able to see and understand something.  Cultural codes are also as strong as basic life instincts sometimes. 

Once I talked with a woman in her fifties perhaps, wearing dark Arabic clothing and a scarf on her head.  I told her about school and that she has to enrol in language classes and leave her present list for economic assistance every month to get her money.  She responded calmly that sometimes she has a pain in her legs and back, and that if she feels bad she will not come to school.  I am thinking she is right.  I understand her point of view but I know it is not acceptable here. The punishment and prize system is simple, and concerns the basic sum of money that is received by repatriates monthly.  If does not obey the rules, he or she will not get a full salary.  I am writing about it because the above mentioned woman charmed me with her simplicity and logical thinking, with her lack of sense of timing, calm and lack of connectivity.

To learn a foreign language, foreign culture, foreign codes, foreign ways of thinking, customs, meanings, food, scent.  Well, European streets differ from those in Baghdad.  They lack the fragrances of saffron and myrrh, the presence of noisy shopkeepers and cruel sun, crowds of people, dust…

But there are a lot of repatriates who miss their families already.  For many of them coming to Europe is a sudden separation from their families, close friends and for most of them the separation is caused by external conditions, in many cases under threat of death.

That’s why many young people straightforwardly and openly talk about the need to be with their close ones. It could seem that a 28-year-old man has a lot of different, more important things on his head than talking every day with his mum or sister. And still family bonds are sometimes stronger than one can imagine.  And the only dream of this man other than money is to bring his family to him, to be able to be with them again.

The phantoms of war do not sleep and they are often wandering along with the repatriates from Iraq.  A man sitting next to me isn’t older than 30, he has got raven hair, straight long nose and black, burning eyes.  His figure is quite thin and he hardly eats. He lost his appetite the day he came to Europe.  Why?  He has lost his father and his uncle.  They were in the regular army.  Already he has learnt from them he learns that the men died.  Somebody wanted to kill him, he had got the warning first, but instead of him his cousin was murdered, somewhere on a street corner at night.   He escaped afterwards.  But all they follow him: his father, his uncle, his cousin and the murderer.  The man seems to be seeing all of them, talking with them like he was a ghost himself.  And ghosts that wander from a place somewhere beyond the time, enjoy the young man’s company.

We talk, we talk about life and death and destiny. The man believes in destiny. He believes that there is a power bigger than him, than everybody else, power that steers us, makes us live or condemns us to die. The man is sad and somewhere I feel a shape of the strength in his voice… The ghosts are listening to the young man.  They are feeling quieter but do they still want something more?

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