A persecuted Iraqi journalist forges a new life in Romania

Telling the Human Story, 16 July 2012

© UNHCR/S.Tataru
Saad practices his ball skills near the Cardinal Points Fountain in Timisoara, Romania. Saad, an Iraqi journalist, was persecuted for his work and is now a refugee in Romania.

TIMISOARA, Romania, July 16 (UNHCR) As a child, Saad* had the dreams that millions of children share at first he wanted to become a pilot and then a professional football player. But the war in Iraq changed all that and he decided he wanted to tell people about the suffering in his homeland.

He became a political journalist to try and make sense of the world around him and explain it to others. But what began as his inspiration led to his persecution and his eventual flight from Iraq. Today the 28-year-old is in Romania, happy trying to rebuild his career far from danger.

Saad worked at a daily national newspaper in Baghdad for three years. He worked with dogged dedication in pursuit of the truth, but he soon found out that in violence-torn Iraq, journalism is "more dangerous than other jobs because you are followed by many groups."

He soon became targeted because of his stories. He was followed and received threatening letters, but the killing of a colleague in front of Saad was particularly hard to bear. Then, in October 2009, Saad was kidnapped and held captive for three months. He thought he would never get out alive. "It was so difficult. I saw the death my own death many times, a thousand times," he told UNHCR.

When he had almost given up, Saad made his escape during a search operation by American troops. But after staying at home for one night, the journalist decided to flee Iraq at his family's urging. He still worries about his family and how his case has affected them.

Saad made his way to Turkey, hoping to reach Germany, where he thought he would be safe. He says he paid US$12,500 to smugglers in northern Turkey, but the journey by truck was an ordeal he was stuck in a tiny space behind the driver's cabin with an Iraqi Kurd, who was also trying to reach Europe.

"It was so hard to breathe. You can't move. It was winter, it was February, but we felt hot because it was such a narrow place," recalled Saad, who said they could not eat, drink or go to the toilet. He now curses the people smugglers as "human flesh merchants" who looked at him as "just big money, walking."

After three days, the truck was searched at the Romania-Hungary border and Saad and his companion were caught by the Romanian authorities. "I saw the snow around me, this was the first time I had seen snow. So I realized I was really away from my country. Maybe I was safe."

After applying for asylum in Romania, Saad finally received refugee status in November 2011. Unlike many other refugees in Central Europe, he does not plan to move further west. Today, he lives in a lively student area of Timisoara, Romania's second city, and is gradually rebuilding his life. "I was fated to be with people here. In a few days I had made friends," he said.

Saad has learned Romanian and now picks up freelance work for a local paper, though he does not yet earn enough from his journalism to survive on that alone. His dream is to cover the big issues maybe even international politics for a major media company.

The young Iraqi man is thankful for the support he receives from Romanian people, including local journalists, who are giving him a chance. And while he recognizes things won't be easy in economically depressed Romania, Saad remains optimistic and determined.

"Nothing is impossible," he muses. "I arrived in Romania. I thought I would not even survive here. But after two years I know the language and I even work as a journalist. Maybe it is difficult for other people, but I can make it."

And while his childhood dream to become a professional football player never came true, sport remains an important part of Saad's life. He plays football and runs two hours a day to keep mentally and physically fit. "When I play sports, I don't think about other things," he says, adding: "I leave everything behind me."

*Name changed for protection reasons.

By Ariane Rummery in Timisoara, Romania

• 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

Special Envoy Angelina Jolie in Iraq

The UN refugee agency's Special Envoy Angelina Jolie visited Iraq this week, meeting with Syrian refugees and internally displaced Iraqi citizens in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. She offered support to 3.3 million people uprooted by conflict in the country and highlighted their needs.

Jolie spoke to people with dramatic stories of escape, including some who walked through the night and hid by day on their road freedom. She also met women who were among the 196 ethnic Yazidis recently released by militants and now staying in the informal settlement at Khanke.

"It is shocking to see how the humanitarian situation in Iraq has deteriorated since my last visit," said Jolie. "On top of large numbers of Syrian refugees, 2 million Iraqis were displaced by violence in 2014 alone. Many of these innocent people have been uprooted multiple times as they seek safety amidst shifting frontlines."

Photos by UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

Special Envoy Angelina Jolie in Iraq

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

For years, migrants and asylum-seekers have flocked to the northern French port of Calais in hopes of crossing the short stretch of sea to find work and a better life in England. This hope drives many to endure squalid, miserable conditions in makeshift camps, lack of food and freezing temperatures. Some stay for months waiting for an opportunity to stow away on a vehicle making the ferry crossing.

Many of the town's temporary inhabitants are fleeing persecution or conflict in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Sudan and Syria. And although these people are entitled to seek asylum in France, the country's lack of accommodation, administrative hurdles and language barrier, compel many to travel on to England where many already have family waiting.

With the arrival of winter, the crisis in Calais intensifies. To help address the problem, French authorities have opened a day centre as well as housing facilities for women and children. UNHCR is concerned with respect to the situation of male migrants who will remain without shelter solutions. Photographer Julien Pebrel recently went to Calais to document their lives in dire sites such as the Vandamme squat and next to the Tioxide factory.

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

Iraq Crisis: Finding a Place to Stay

Tens of thousands of people have fled to Erbil and Duhok governorates in Iraq's Kurdistan region over the past week, sheltering in schools, mosques, churches and temporary camps following a surge of violence in parts of central and northern Iraq. UNHCR and its partners have been working to meet the urgent shelter needs. The refugee agency has delivered close to 1,000 tents to a transit camp being built by the authorities and NGOs at Garmawa, near Duhok.

Many of the people arriving from Mosul at checkpoints between Ninewa and governorate and Iraq's Kurdistan region have limited resources and cannot afford to pay for shelter. Some people stay with family, while others are staying in hotels and using up their meagre funds.

In the village of Alqosh, some 150 people from 20 families, with little more than the clothes on their back, have been living in several overcrowded classrooms in a primary school for the past week. One member of the group said they had lived in a rented apartment in Mosul and led a normal family life. But in Alqosh, they feared for the welfare and education of their children and the presence of snakes and scorpions.

Iraq Crisis: Finding a Place to Stay

Iraq: Heartbreak at the BorderPlay video

Iraq: Heartbreak at the Border

As the Syria crisis enters a fifth year, Syrians continue to seek safety abroad. But desperation is driving some to return to their war-torn country.
Iraq: Angelina Jolie Visits Displaced IraqisPlay video

Iraq: Angelina Jolie Visits Displaced Iraqis

UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie recently visited internally displaced Iraqis living in an informal settlement and a formal camp at Khanke, near Dohuk. There, she heard dramatic stories of escape from the more than 20,000 Yazidis who fled Sinjar and surrounding areas last August.
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.