• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

An Iraqi Armenian teen shows the way to a new life

News Stories, 30 October 2008

© UNHCR/A.Hayrapetyan
Good Hair Day: Mariam is setting an example with her enthusiasm and her desire to make the most of life in Armenia.

YEREVAN, Armenia, October 30 (UNHCR) Mariam Sargis has spent most of her life in Iraq, but the teenager is now getting an unexpected chance to discover the land and language of her ancestors. And the 14-year-old is thriving; setting an example to her family, her community and other refugees with her enthusiasm.

Mariam left Baghdad in 2004 with her father, Sargis, mother, Najva, and younger brother Minas. They were among hundreds of members of the Armenian Apostolic Church, one of the world's oldest Christian communities, to flee Iraq to escape mounting sectarian violence in recent years. The majority, including Mariam's parents, were born in the Middle East nation.

About 1,000 Iraqi Armenians have been granted refugee or temporary asylum status in Armenia over the past four years. They live in rented houses in the capital, Yerevan, or in the provinces of Kotayk and Ararat.

Most possess limited financial resources and are in urgent need of material assistance. They also find it hard to communicate in an unfamiliar language and a major struggle to make ends meet in an alien land.

"Despite the fact that most Iraqis are of Armenian descent, they only understand Western Armenian [the modern dialect spoken by much of the Armenian diaspora], and, as a result, they face difficulties finding proper employment," noted Bushra Halepota, UNHCR's representative in Armenia.

The UN refugee agency, working through its local implementing partner, Mission Armenia, has been helping the most vulnerable families and promoting local integration of the refugees. But despite this helping hand, some especially the older generation are finding it hard to adjust.

Mariam, with her positive outlook and determination to integrate and succeed, is setting an example to her peers and proving that, with a bit of will and effort, they can manage and also look to the future with confidence. Inspired by both small and big achievements, she is taking firm steps forward.

The outgoing teenager has enthusiastically embraced vocational training and Armenian-language classes funded by UNHCR. And whenever she finds things hard-going she just remembers how bad things were in Iraq.

"When my mother starts complaining, I say, 'But we are safe here, Mum, cheer up,'" Mariam said. "Here in Armenia, I sleep peacefully and have good dreams again. I'm finally free of painful memories."

She wasn't so upbeat when she first arrived here two years ago to what must have seemed like a bleak future. Everything from the weather to the language and the people seemed so different, and even menacing she remembers feeling scared a lot of the time.

But before long the family came under the wing of UNHCR and Mission Armenia, which in mid-2007 launched the assistance and integration programme for the vulnerable Iraqi refugee families in Armenia. Mariam was found a place in school and she seized the opportunity to make new friends, expand her knowledge, and learn the Armenian language and culture.

"I would never have thought the Armenian language could be so different from mine; so rich and beautiful," she said. "My Armenian language learning experience was unforgettable. I seem to have gone through my childhood again, had another first teacher, another community, another life."

She is now studying to be a hair stylist, which will allow her to earn a living once she has finished the course. "The classes are so beneficial and enjoyable. I am inspired by this opportunity," said Mariam, adding that her chosen profession would also serve as an excellent opportunity to meet new people.

Her skills should help her family stay above water during the current hard times; her father used to own a food business in Iraq, but has only managed to find odd jobs in Armenia and is having difficulty paying the rent after using up most of the money he made from selling the family house in Baghdad.

Mariam is so selfless, she gives the credit to others for her happiness in Armenia. "I am thankful to all of the people around me who were so tolerant and caring; my neighbours, my teachers, and my friends," she said. "Thanks to the big support of UNHCR, I now believe in my strength and feel secure."

But she is the one who should be thanked, for making the most of her new life and setting an example to so many others.

By Anahit Hayrapetyan in Yerevan, Armenia

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

Iraq Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Make a gift now to help protect and assist those fleeing violence in Iraq.

Donate to this crisis

CAR Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Make a gift now to help protect and assist those fleeing violence in Central African Republic.

Donate to this crisis

Crisis in Iraq: Displacement

UNHCR and its partners estimate that out of a total population of 26 million, some 1.9 million Iraqis are currently displaced internally and more than 2 million others have fled to nearby countries. While many people were displaced before 2003, increasing numbers of Iraqis are now fleeing escalating sectarian, ethnic and general violence. Since January 2006, UNHCR estimates that more than 800,000 Iraqis have been uprooted and that 40,000 to 50,000 continue to flee their homes every month. UNHCR anticipates there will be approximately 2.3 million internally displaced people within Iraq by the end of 2007. The refugee agency and its partners have provided emergency assistance, shelter and legal aid to displaced Iraqis where security has allowed.

In January 2007, UNHCR launched an initial appeal for US$60 million to fund its Iraq programme. Despite security issues for humanitarian workers inside the country, UNHCR and partners hope to continue helping up to 250,000 of the most vulnerable internally displaced Iraqis and their host communities

Posted on 12 June 2007

Crisis in Iraq: Displacement

Non-Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

After Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled in Iraq in 2003, groups of refugees who had lived in the country for many years tried to leave the chaos and lawlessness that soon ensued. Hundreds of people started fleeing to the border with Jordan, including Palestinians in Baghdad and Iranian Kurds from the Al Tash refugee camp in central Iraq.

Aside from a few Palestinians with family connections inside the neighbouring country, the refugees were refused entry and free movement in Jordan. Thousands were soon stranded in the no-man's land between Iraq and Jordan or at the desert camp of Ruweished, located 60 kilometres inside Jordan.

Since 2003, Palestinians, Iranian Kurds, Iranians, Sudanese and Somalis have been living there and suffering the scorching heat and freezing winters of the Jordanian desert. UNHCR and its partners have provided housing and assistance and tried to find solutions – the agency has helped resettle more than 1,000 people in third countries. At the beginning of 2007, a total of 119 people – mostly Palestinians – remained in Ruweished camp without any immediate solution in sight.

Posted on 20 February 2007

Non-Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

The UN refugee agency has launched a US$60 million appeal to fund its work helping hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people. The new appeal concludes that unremitting violence in Iraq will likely mean continued mass internal and external displacement affecting much of the surrounding region. The appeal notes that the current exodus is the largest long-term population movement in the Middle East since the displacement of Palestinians following the creation of Israel in 1948.

UNHCR has warned that the longer this conflict goes on, the more difficult it will become for the hundreds of thousands of displaced and the communities that are trying to help them – both inside and outside Iraq. Because the burden on host communities and governments in the region is enormous, it is essential that the international community support humanitarian efforts.

The US$60 million will cover UNHCR's protection and assistance programmes for Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey, as well as non-Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people within Iraq itself.

Posted on 10 January 2007

Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

Iraq: The Plight of the YazidisPlay video

Iraq: The Plight of the Yazidis

Tens of thousands of people, including ethnic Yazidis originating from the Sinjar area, have been forced to find shelter in schools and unfinished structures across northern Iraq since fleeing their homes. The UN refugee agency has been trying to help, opening camps to provide better shelter.
Iraq: Preparing for Winter in DohukPlay video

Iraq: Preparing for Winter in Dohuk

Efforts are under way in Syria, Iraq and neighbouring countries to prepare refugees and the internally displaced for winter. But UNHCR remains deeply concerned that a $58.45 million funding shortfall could leave as many as a million people out in the cold.
Iraq: The Generous GiverPlay video

Iraq: The Generous Giver

An estimated 1.8 million Iraqis have been internally displaced since the beginning of the year, with nearly half seeking refuge in the Kurdistan Region. As weary families began pouring into Dohuk, one local businessman built them a small camp equipped with tents, water, sanitation and electricity.