'Here, even the birds feel safe': an iraqi refugee in Europe

Iraqi journalist Nawzat Shamdeen, meets a refugee from Iraq, who lived in Mosul for over 40 years but who left shortly before extremists took over the city mid-2014. He and his family left Iraq for Norway. He talks about the hopes and fears that come with a new year, in a new country. Even the birds seem to feel safer on the Norwegian streets than the average Iraqi does at home, he says. 

“I have moved to another world. I moved from a country where life stopped, where it is filled with sadness and pain, to another country that excels at providing its people with a just life, where there is no distinction between black and white, east and west, rich and poor. And as a result I've fallen into the trap of making comparisons between two countries.” 

“The Iraqi people haven't had one day of peace. They have lived through decades of war and occupation. In the early '80s they found themselves engaged in a war that lasted for eight years and devoured everything, a war that culminated with Saddam Hussein's occupation of Kuwait in the early 1990s. 

This war led to yet another, uglier war that destroyed the country's infrastructure, killed hundreds of thousands of its citizens and caused an economic blockade. And that war led to yet another, started in 2003, which toppled Hussein's regime. That war in 2003 opened the door to a war on every street. And Iraq has yet to stop bleeding – it hasn't stopped, even just for one hour. 

All this has been followed by the further destruction of the country, now that Daash [Editor's note: the Arabic acronym for the extremist group known as the Islamic State] controls a third of the country.” 

“For all of these reasons, the Iraqi education system began to fail, as did health services. Corruption became wide spread within all state institutions.Citizens are deprived of electricity and potable water and they live in severe poverty with high unemployment and a chronic lack of security. The populist response to all this is complete backwardness and a rebellion against the rule of law.” 

“Here in Norway everybody smiles, the young and the old. There are strict laws and everybody abides by them strictly. The country's flag flies high everywhere. It is on bags, walls, clothes and near to the people's hearts. No one here thinks about the righteousness he has won if he provides you with help. Nobody cares about your origin or your tribe or your appearance or your clothes. 

They only care about you. Nobody makes fun of your accent or the mistakes you make trying to speak to the Norwegian people in their own language. They listen carefully and try to understand what you want to tell them. Nobody here makes fun of your job. All people here are equal and they all have decent housing, education, food and medicine.” 

“For hundreds of years Norway was part of Denmark and then it was ruled by Sweden for 95 years; it was also occupied by the Germans for five years. But its people insisted on life, they wrote their own Constitution and founded the oldest European Parliament.” 

“I've been here for more than seven months now. Here appointments are sacred. You spend your life as if you are a small part of a ticking watch that must always be accurate. I don't remember hearing the horn of an impatient car or a policeman standing in the middle of a street. 

I don't think I've ever seen anyone cross the street somewhere they were not supposed to cross the street, or anyone throwing litter on the street or violating the rights of others on the same street. Even the birds – the gulls and the crows – walk on the sidewalks and among the people without fear.” 

“In the city where I come from, the traffic lights have not worked for eleven years. Electricity, that brings life to homes and businesses, is scarce, and you fight to find, or pay for, a few litres of fuel for heating, cooking or driving. 

There's bitter conflict and competition between people on the streets, in government departments and even in places of worship and private homes. Angry parents and dreamers have longed for a better tomorrow for decades – but it never comes.” 

“And all that happened even before the arrival of Daash and it's occupation of Mosul. There people are living in conditions equal to those before the industrial revolution while displaced people enjoy their worst days ever in forgotten camps, clinging to a fragile string of hope that they might get the opportunity to seek asylum elsewhere.” 

“Meanwhile those who stayed in Mosul are subject to strict penalties – death, lashing, confiscation of property and money – if they break Daash's rules. They also lack jobs, basic services and any means to communicate. In Mosul's streets, Daash's militants - strangers from other countries – roam freely. 

The world has paved the way for them to come to Mosul and an army of resentful locals planted those paved roads with their loyalty. Old traditions in Mosul have been stamped out as have local courts, government departments and universities. Daash deliberately brought a donkey to the campus of Mosul University to humiliate those who work there.” 

“My children may feel happy with their new homeland. They will grow up here in a place where the state actually cares for them. They won't feel the pain of nostalgia that we, their parents, suffer. I am sure that for them the problems and disadvantages they faced in their old home faded away in days. 

They'll only remember the positive things. But the memory of the time I lived there will continue to chase me even if I manage to slough off that old skin like a snake.” “I look at pictures of my hometown on my mobile phone and they make me sad, they make me smile.” 

“Oh, Al Hadba, symbol of the city, helmet on the Tigris river, I will return to you one day. We will all pass above you again. We will carry flowers and candles and kisses to plant on the left and right cheeks of Mosul. And we will bring an olive tree to plant at the foot of your old wound, to grow in a homeland that is peaceful at last.”

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