On the Refugee Trail—Part II: A Syrian Army Defector Lands in Iraqi Kurdistan

Monday 20 March 201710:29 am
In a trip that set him up against smugglers and land mines, and cost him his most prized possessions, Suar fled to Iraqi Kurdistan to escape the mandatory military service in Syria. Today, he resides in Domiz Camp in Iraq, where he works as a nurse with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Nonetheless, he is optimistic about the prospects offered to him as a refugee. The following is his testimony: Things had progressively gotten worse in Daraa, and I could no longer stand the way things were headed. With the increasing number of opposition groups, the presence of soldiers steadily increased at critical checkpoints, while others were sent to search suspects’ houses, often breaking in during the middle of the night, indifferent to the fact that there were women inside. Some of them became involved in illegal activities, such as theft and harassment. I never wanted to be part of it. With the authorization I had from the Syrian army, and having not yet obtained my identification papers, I was able to reach Damascus without being stopped and discovered as a soldier by opposition groups at one of the many checkpoints on the way. My only hope was that nobody would ask for my papers. I got on a bus full of passengers, hoping to find space next to the driver. Luckily, my wish came true, and the security officers thought I was the driver’s assistant, and so allowed us to pass. Upon my arrival in Damascus, I went to a tour company to arrange my trip to Iraqi Kurdistan, which took 24 hours. The drivers used their cell phones to call each other and warn one another of any risks on the road, and to notify one another of the need to take alternate routes. I found a secret hiding spot on the bus, and it occurred to me to use it in case of an emergency. However, I was able to reach Al-Hasakah without any incidents. A few days after arriving, I received a phone call from a military base, and I learned that the ammunition storage had been broken into, and the weapons stolen, while some soldiers had joined the opposition. That was the worst thing that could happen. I didn’t want to confront this situation, from which there was no escape. And so, I decided to flee. My uncle connected me to a smuggler, and the day of my departure, the security situation deteriorated, met with the intensified security presence on the borders. I hid in a house for hours with six others, waiting for the situation to calm down. As for the armed parties, they are fighters who absconded from military service, and soldiers who fled from the army. Subsequently, we completed the trip, after we had crossed several villages and paid about $500 to cross three checkpoints. Later, we had to travel for 1.5 kilometers in complete darkness. Suddenly, we saw three armed men on motorbikes who asked us to stop, then began shooting. I lay down on the floor, the way I had learned to in the army, and I waited for some time, while my peers all ran away, and were almost killed. When the shooting stopped, I quickly got up and forgot to take the bag in which I had been carrying my most prized possessions, from my university certificate, to my clothes and mobile phone. We managed to arrive at a citadel controlled by the Iraqi authorities, who interrogated us, extracting all of our details. They asked us to wait to run background checks on our names at their headquarters in Baghdad. A sympathetic officer approached us and warned us of the danger of deporting us back to Syria, advising us to go forward in the direction of the Iraqi security checkpoint. It was at that moment that I recalled my bag, containing the documents upon which my future depended, and that I wouldn’t be able to leave without. A friend of mine offered to go and search for the bag. He arrived at what he discovered to be a minefield, and we were forced to seek help from the sympathetic officer to save our friend. Finally, we arrived without retrieving my bag, and began the registration process. They called someone at the citadel, who agreed to go and search for my bag in return for a sum of money. I was able to bargain and finally retrieved my papers and belongings. Late into the same day, we crossed into Iraqi Kurdistan, in torn clothes and wounds that hadn’t yet healed from two months prior. But, at the very least, I felt safe and I was alive. When we arrived at Domiz Camp, I saw that there were about 100 tents. At the time, my family joined me, and Domiz was the best place to seek asylum. I began asking around for work. Three weeks later, I happened to get to know an international officer at MSF who spoke Arabic. I brought my paperwork to the interview, and I was hired on the spot due to my experience in the healthcare sector. My first daughter was born in Domiz Camp, where life proved to be difficult. The electricity is cut off for six hours a day, and the air is full of dust, but despite all this, we have work inside the camp and outside it, and our dignity remains safeguarded. I thank God for everything I’ve been through, for we finally began to find some relief in a life that had become filled with pain and suffering. Today, my eight-month-old daughter suffers from several diseases, and since I am a nurse specialized in recovery care, it’s easy for me to recognize when someone suffers from a health issue. My daughter suffered from fits, but the cause behind them was unclear. We’ve tried many treatments, but to no avail. If I had a passport, I would have taken her abroad immediately and admitted her to the best hospital in Germany, where I would be assured that she would receive the appropriate healthcare. But I am a refugee without a passport, and here I am, stuck, with no place else to go. Of course, I cannot illegally migrate with my daughter, as this would pose a huge risk to a sick infant such as she. Besides, I’ve been through this before, and I don’t want to repeat it with her. Perhaps the only solution is to file a request with the United Nations to travel and receive medical care abroad, but this would take a long time to process, and there are so many others in similar circumstances.” This article was published in cooperation with Médecins Sans Frontières, as part of a series of articles on refugees who escaped the scourge of war in their home countries.
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