November 1, 2006 was a chilly Wednesday in Baghdad. A family friend was driving me to the airport, ending the two hardest months of my life. I was silent for the duration of the car ride, thinking about the fact that this could easily be the last time I would be on, and see, the streets of Baghdad. I knew that once I got on the plane, the image of Iraq growing distant before my eyes, would be the image I would remember of my homeland: moving farther away from me with each passing moment.
Later that day, when the planes wheels lifted off the ground, I officially became a refugee.
My story represents one of the many stories about displaced Iraqis, stories that are filled with sadness, determination, and hope. Just last week I spoke with a friend who recently fled Iraq for a neighboring country. I asked if her move was temporary or permanent, as she had rejected the idea of leaving Iraq when I had. I could hear the disappointment in her voice as she said, “things will not be getting better soon. I need a normal life. I need to be able to go out without worrying that I might not come back home.” Continuing, she said, “I couldn’t take it anymore. I know I am giving up on my country, but I feel like everything is giving up on me.” I listened but couldn’t say a word. What can you say after that?
As with my friend and I, most Iraqi refugees fled in search of a safer life for themselves and their families. They carried with them, not only the burden of physical possessions, but also the burden of the reasons they had to leave their homes, and how they ended up with an unknown future. A lot of them took the long way to the United States, Canada, or Europe, starting their lives completely over.
For these refugees, myself included, it was quite the reality check when we arrived. Life is very different here! Learning to blend in with a foreign society, a different language, a new everything, was very hard for myself and for others like me. One story that was passed through the refugee circle was particularly striking: An Iraqi doctor, who had a successful practice in Baghdad, had tired of the bombings. He decided to leave Iraq with his wife and three children, upon arrival he had to become a waiter in the morning and a cab driver at night to support them.
According to the UNHCR there are 3,052,583 displaced Iraqis in Iraq and around the world. All of their stories are different, and it proves an important point: the Iraqi refugee crisis is still happening, every single day. Millions of Iraqis are without a home, and without a glimmer of hope of one day returning to their beloved homeland. We all yearn to have a safe home, to return to Iraq with our loved ones, to our houses, our gardens, our former lives.
This is, of course, why Iraq still matters. There is a tremendous need for action to address the miserable situation for so many displaced Iraqis. Please help EPIC and I by signing our petition to ensure that Iraq remains on the agenda! More needs to happen to help rebuild an Iraq where refugees can come home and live happily ever after!
***Photo of girl filling water can courtesy of Wissam Al-Okaili/AFP/Getty Images