09 Feb Fleeing Sectarian Violence: story of an Iraqi refugee

I met Mr. Husham in December 2014 during a COA training session in Istanbul. He had a compelling story that he agreed to share. Mr. Husham was resettled to Canada in December 2014. He is married, has two children and is a Sunni Muslim. He was born in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1976 and graduated from Al-Rafideen University with a marketing degree. This is his story as he related it to me during our coffee breaks, over a period of three days.

Muhammed Ramadan

COA Facilitator

This is the story of Husham Al-Azawi, a COA refugee participant I met in Istanbul, Turkey, in December 2014. It has been translated from Arabic.

My name is Husham Al-Azawi . Up until 2006, I lived in the Al-Mansura area of Baghdad together with my wife and two daughters. The turning point in our life came when a letter sent by one of our neighbours, a Shia Muslim, asked us to leave our house and move away permanently. In Iraq, sectarian violence against Sunni Muslims had become rampant. Two days later, our house was attacked by people carrying machine guns. We had to face a harsh reality: the threat was real. We moved away.

Like many other Iraqis, we crossed into Syria. I had hoped that I would find a job and be in a position to provide for my family, but it was not so easy. Despite all of my efforts and educational background, I did not find any work and, after three months, we all returned to Iraq.  Back in another area of Baghdad, I started working with a large company. After a short time I was appointed as the head of the logistics department. All was going relatively well until one day the office driver approached me and said that Shia Muslim militia were waiting for me in the office. I knew that they had found me and that we would all have to move again. We did. 

In the following years, I moved around Baghdad and eventually found a job as a technician in a company that was producing electrical generators. One day, in August 2013, I saw that a large letter “X”  had been painted on the outside wall of my house. On the same day I was called to come to a certain place to fix an electric generator. Two men, pretending to be the clients, came to pick me up at work.

It was a set-up. In the car, they threatened me with their guns, tied my hands behind my back and blindfolded me. They took me to a deserted location, on the outskirts of the city, where they started asking questions about members of my family, my religion, etc.  After that, they told me that they wanted to kill all Sunni Muslims in Iraq.

After a short time, still blindfolded, I heard that other men had entered the room where I was kept. They had a torch gun which they pointedt towards me until my body was burned and I fainted out of agony. Later on, they brought me back to the city, threw me out of the car and left me on the side of a road.  They ordered me not to go to any hospital and/or police, otherwise they would find me and kill me.  With the assistance of an unknown but very generous driver, I was taken to my brother-in-law’s house and nursed for two months. As soon as I recovered, my family and I moved to Turkey where we quickly applied for refugee status with the UNHCR.

We have now been in Turkey for 14 months; all living in one 20-square meter room.  To make ends meet, I have been working in a coffee shop for 8 USD per day, for an average of 15 hours a day. It has not been easy, but I am relieved to know that this situation will soon be over and that we will start a new life chapter in Canada. 

I thank the Lord for giving us the chance to start a new life in Canada. It has been a long time since we have felt safe anywhere.  We are so grateful to be given this opportunity for a peaceful life.

Husham Al-Azawi