Topic: My journey from Iraq to New Zealand
I came to New Zealand in 1997 from Iraq via a United Nations camp in Saudi Arabia. It was a long and painful journey, but I did not give up hope. Finally after more than 6 yrs in a camp - where we had to live literally like animals amongst filth, overcrowded conditions and constant fear of being executed, I was among the 200 or so picked up by New Zealand authorities and brought to this beautiful country. It looked like "Janat- heaven" to me, after the harsh conditions of the camp - this is my story - former Iraqi Refugee now settled in New Zealand.
"I was born in Fau, a suburb of Basrah in Southern Iraq, in 1966, the second son in what was to become a large family. Times were happy in Iraq in the 1970s, before Saddam became President in 1979. After that Iraq became like a prison. Iraq was a wealthy country, but everything went to Saddam. Life was very horrible."
"The Army was compulsory after Institute. I went to an Industrial Institute to train as a mechanic. Schools - we had Primary, Intermediate, Secondary, then Institute or University. Everything for education was free in Iraq. At Institute, everything was free, meals were free, and I was paid a salary. I went straight from Institute to the Army at age 19, it was compulsory. If you didn't go, you were executed. I became a Sergeant and trained soldiers in North Iraq at Nineveh."
"I was training soldiers during the Iraq-Iran War from September 1980 to August 1988. The war began when Iraq, under Saddam, invaded Iran. I trained the soldiers in using weapons, in attack and defence. Basrah, where my family was, is near Iran. The Iranians were kind, they would warn families to get out of the city when an attack was coming. They would put out a warning on the radio."
"Under Saddam, it was still hard being in the Army, even though we were working for Saddam. Soldiers could still be put in jail. Under Saddam, we only got news from Baghdad, we didn't know what was happening in the rest of the world. Saddam travelled with a guard of about 5,000, with helicopters, and cars with tinted glass so you couldn't see who was inside. During the Iran/Iraq War my family moved to Najav, which is a holy place for the Shi'a Islamic world."
"From age 15-18 all youth had to go in the Army. There were about 2 million in the Army. Workers were brought in from Egypt and other countries. Food was cheap in Iraq. A lot of my friends were killed in the war. Some of us sergeants were sent to South Iraq to train children in Intermediate schools about the army, using toy guns; Saddam wanted everyone trained in violence. Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, so there was no break between wars."
"I was part of the 1991 revolution. The Americans helped Saddam to destroy the revolution. Anyone caught was executed. In 1991 I ran with my younger brother from Najav to Samawa, on the Tigris River. We went to a United Nations camp near the border with Saudi Arabia. The Republican Army couldn't do anything to us as the United Nations was there. Many countries were represented there. We went to the Basrah suburb of Safwan for 3 days, we ate tomatoes and food from the UN, then we went to Rafha in Saudi Arabia, were there was a camp with about 85,000 people."
"The rest of my family were still in Iraq. The Army went to my father and asked where me and my brother were, but he said he didn't know. I don't know whether my father was punished. Prisoners were tortured - if they spoke about what happened in jail they were killed. My cousin said "Hell is better than Saddam's jail." He envied animals as they were free."
"In camp we were given a tent. We made mud bricks to build ourselves houses with as the winters were so cold. The Saudi Army was very nasty to former Saddam soldiers. They killed a lot of Iraqi refugees. Some deserted and went back to Iraq to tell their families what was happening. King Fahd, with religious leaders, allowed Saudi intelligence to stop Iraqis leaving."
"I was in the camp from 22 March 1991 until 1997. We played a lot of sports, we studied politics, economics, and other subjects. We brought in our own study materials from Iraq. We would cut the fence to get in and out. In 1997 a New Zealand delegation came to the camp; they would take only those who spoke English. They took 51 people to New Zealand, including me and my brother. This was the second group they took to New Zealand, the first group was over 100 people. America and Australia and other countries took many more people than New Zealand. The UN flew us to Singapore, then to Auckland."
"In Auckland we were quarantined for a month, because the water in the camp had been unclean. We were treated very well in New Zealand. I was in Wellington, in Porirua, for 2 years, and came to Hamilton in 2000. My first impressions of New Zealand - I was very shocked, we didn't know how the rest of the world lived, we only knew a very harsh life. Wooden buildings were strange, no wood was used for building in Iraq, only bricks and concrete. New Zealand was very friendly, safe and peaceful."
"I am still affected by health problems from what happened to me in Iraq, old injuries still bother me, I have had sinus, cataract and glaucoma operations. I was given physiotherapy for my back but they couldn't do anything because it was an old problem. I worked as a cleaner for a year but my back problems made it too hard."
"My brother went back to Iraq in 2004. He got married and has two children. I don't know if I will go back, it would be too much changed, but I might leave New Zealand one day. There are still problems in Iraq, still bombings, the Americans want to show that the Iraqis still need them. A lot of Iraquis still think Saddam didn't do what he was accused of. My family is now better off, they have more freedom. An Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at President Bush, and nothing has happen to him or his family. People are better off. Now I am feeling OK, but not happy that the Americans are still there. They want the oil, gold, mercury. I don't care about myself, I care about my people, my family and my country."