I fled Iraq in 1988, I was 16 years old at the time

You cannot fight chemical weapons

Because we had to flee the poison gas attacks by Saddam Hussein’s army during the Iraq-Iran war My family were members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and part of the peshmerga. In the 1980s, Saddam started a bloody campaign against us that killed many. We had to choose between life and death. You cannot fight chemical weapons.

We left and we weren’t been able to bring any luggage, except for some clothes. My father told us that we would return soon. Together with thousands of Kurdish refugees, we walked through war zones for three days and three nights, while bombs went off around us.

We had to choose between life and death

I was very angry and sad. Did not know where we were going and what was going to happen. Yet we were still lucky that we hadn’t been attacked. That no one in our family had died. I knew other people whose entire family was killed.

For three years, we lived in Turkish refugee camps, dreaming of a return to Iraq. We shared food and stories, memories of our hometowns. Nothing was left of our town anymore.

Our bread was poisoned

I met my husband in the camp. Our daughter was born in 1991. When I was released from hospital after giving birth, I ate some bread. It had a bad taste. I didn’t trust it, but ate some anyway. Later on, we heard that the bread was poisoned. Through my breast milk, my daughter got poisoned as well. We both fell very ill. The poison was put in the bread by a bakery – one that was bought by the regime of Saddam Hussein. Many people in our camp died this way. To this day, my daughter gets sick easily and frequently. I am certain it is due to that poisoned bread.

Even in the camp we were no longer safe now. We couldn’t go back to Iraq, by then the Gulf War had started. We heard more and more stories about Europe. My husband worked in the camp, so we had a bit of money. We gave that to human traffickers, who helped us get away. It was our only option.

In the Netherlands our life in the asylum centre was difficult. You have to start over again. I could speak a little English, but not very well. And you can do is nothing. You cannot go to school, to work, take courses.

They are right, of course, that they want to figure it all out before you get a residence permit. But the waiting is long if you cannot do anything. I wanted to belong. I did everything I could to help. Making coffee, looking after all the children. I wrote down every Dutch word I saw, just to learn the language.

In 1994, we got a residence permit. Since then, I took Dutch classes, and I worked as a carer during lunch breaks at my children’s school. My husband and I mostly wanted to work. You do not want to be dependent on benefits. I wanted to give my children a bright future.

And now My eldest just started a degree in Health Sciences. I’m so proud! One day, I want to finish the training required to become a judge, which I had started in Iraq.

No one leaves their country and home voluntarily

Looking at the massive flow of refugees today, I consider all those people victims. They just want to live! No one leaves their country and home voluntarily.

Here in the Netherlands we live together, all with a different background. Here you feel safe, you enjoy human rights and honesty, and you share. I find that important. I would love to share these values with the people in Iraq someday.