March 28, 2017

Maher

Before the Americans invaded, my family lived in a small city in Iraq. We did live in Baghdad, but moved when my father got work elsewhere. The life was very good. It was safe. I remember living with my mother and my father coming home only late on Fridays or for holidays. We never had to lock the door. Sometimes we’d go to another city late at night, and we never worried about our safety. Nobody would question us. Our life was very simple and we grew our own food from the garden. Life was good. I was studying and entered an electric vocational school. I planned to study something else, but my parents wouldn’t let me. When the war first started there wasn’t too much impact on our city. People were actually happy; they believed Iraq would become a new Dubai – there would be too much money. It was our dream. But society broke down. People began robbing houses and banks. There were no police. There was nothing. If you had guns, you controlled the city. Violence between regional cultural groups broke out. In my opinion, we didn’t need Democracy. We weren’t ready. 14 years later, Iraqi life is still chaos. No one can control it.

I left Iraq in 2009 and went to Syria to study web design and I began working 3 years later. People constantly asked, “What are you doing in Syria? There was a war. Why do you live in a neighborhood supportive of the opposition?” I couldn’t keep living in this dangerous situation and I couldn’t keep waiting to move to a safer city. I didn’t want to go back to Iraq. I learned it was easy to get a visa for Thailand. I didn’t have much of a choice. So many other countries made it impossible for Iraqis. It was good, but I was working 15 hours a day – midnight to 3pm. That was hard. After a year, I needed to renew my visa but didn’t have the money to pay the fees. I told my boss I would look for another job, but he told me to stay and that he would cover the cost. The time came, and he wouldn’t pay. He leveraged that against me. He told me I couldn’t get a job anywhere else because I was without documentation. No one would hire me. Eventually my family, who made it to Turkey, pleaded for me to come back and be with them again. I couldn’t renew my legal status in Thailand and social unrest became more commonplace, so I agreed.

The person who interviewed me from Brazil’s Justice Department thought I came to the country to travel because I came on a tourist visa. He asked repeatedly why I couldn’t go back to my country. I came because I had no other choice. I’ve met some Brazilians who call me a terrorist or stay away because they thought I had a bomb. There was a Brazilian woman I met through the internet and we dated. She eventually told her family about our relationship and they told her, “Be careful! Don’t go outside with him – he’s very dangerous. He’s come to kill all Brazilians.” Her family blocked me on their phones. I had the similar perception problems in Turkey and Thailand where people wouldn’t get close to me. They view me as a threat because I’m Arab. I’m not even a practicing Muslim, but people still view me this way. All they need to see is my face. Sometimes I tried to tell people in Turkey and Thailand that I was Turkish, but they would immediately reject the notion and call me Arab just because they looked at my face.

Now I’m looking for work. I found work in a hotel, but they wouldn’t hire me because I don’t have a RNE number because I’m still waiting CONARE’s decision. The bureaucracy of all these countries punishes refuge seekers. I need that document because once you have it, you have residence. I want to take some classes at a local college, but they couldn’t register me without the RNE. Until I get it, I can’t travel outside of the country, I can’t get a driver’s license, I can’t get health insurance, I can’t open a bank account at any place other than Itaú, nor can I get registered work even in my field of web design that a studied. It feels like people don’t trust you if you don’t have the documentation. I feel there is some type of phobia many people carry. I don’t even feel that I could get married to another person and feel safe with them. I just want a place to stay. I want to stop being considered as dangerous or being taken advantage of. It’s not all bad though. I’ve seen more countries, learned more languages, and experienced more cultures than most. My opinions have changed for the better.

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