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October 2017
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Refugee Life through the Eyes of a Child

Omar (12 years old) is one of the ten thousands refugees from Iraq who dared to risk their lives by fleeing their country. About three months ago, Omar and his family left Iraq and started a perilous journey to Europe. The family was not complete: Omar’s Dad had to stay behind. 

Aside from the fact that he is a refugee, Omar appears in every other way like a typical 12-year old. He plays football with his friends, makes jokes and goes to school. Still, Omar is one of the millions of refugee children who has seen way too much in his young life.

Omar © Photo Tess van Staten

Omar © Photo Tess van Staten

“The situation is not good in Iraq. I have seen people getting murdered. People used to break the doors of our house and come into our home to destroy everything. They tried to take my father. I am happy I am in a safe place right now in the Netherlands with my Mum and my brothers and sisters, but I miss my Dad very much, I want to be with him.”

Omar attempts to appear brave but I can tell that he is struggling to keep his emotions under control. He petrifies when I ask him where his Dad is. The interpreter intervenes by telling me that Omar’s Dad has cancer and would not have survived the long journey. He stayed behind to die in Iraq without his family.

I look at Omar who does not look me in the eye and I can tell that he is ashamed of his emotions. I feel powerless looking at him. This little guy, who had to leave his Dad behind knowing that he would never see him again. It is heartbreaking.

Omar interrupts the silence by telling me that he would like to go back to Iraq, just to see his Dad one more time, to tell him that he loves him and to say goodbye.

A perilous journey 

Leaving your Dad, your home and all your belongings in the middle of the night and having no idea where you are going. Omar grew up in a world in which threats and tensions were as self-evident for children as celebrating birthday parties and taking care of their pets.

After Omar said goodbye to his Dad, the family left, knowing that they would never see him again. Human traffickers picked them up at their home and brought them to a truck where around a hundred people were already waiting.

“The journey from Iraq to Turkey is very dangerous. There are no windows in the truck so it is completely dark. My Mum lost her consciousness because there were too many people in the truck. We were lucky that some people tried to help my Mum; they pressed the emergency button in the truck whereafter the human traffickers stopped to help her.”

After driving for a couple of days, Omar and his family arrived in Izmir in the middle of the night. They were dropped in a forest, where they stayed for almost 7 hours until another human trafficker came to pick them up and brought them to the boat that would take them to Greece. From thereon, they followed the familiar migrant trail from the Turkish coast to the Greek islands. The family traveled in a small dingy with too many passengers.

“The human traffickers have often abandoned us. They often took off with the money without helping us. The human traffickers keep picking you up until you are at the boat, then they leave you alone. Before they leave, they teach one person how to steer the boat; this person gets a discount. Once in the boat, we do not know where to go, we just sail until we see land.”

When I ask Omar how he was feeling during the journey, he immediately replies that he was not scared. “The journey was really difficult because it was very dangerous but I was not scared. Why would I be scared? I had already experienced many bad things and my Dad told me to be brave and take care of my family.”

His body language shows me another story.

A safe home 

Omar tells me that they did not plan to go to the Netherlands. “I had never heard of the Netherlands before we came here. I did not know anything.  The Netherlands is really beautiful… I feel safe here… I love the bikes and going to school to learn Dutch. It is much better than in Iraq. Almost all the people in my school in Iraq were bad. I only had one friend who I used to hang out with at school. The rest of the people are bad people. I really like English but the teacher in Iraq was really hard on us. She used to beat us for no reason.”

We are standing outside, waiting for his Mum I would like to thank. It is cold and windy. I am shivering. He looks at me, takes of his winter hat and gives it to me. This little guy who has gone through so much, who does not have anything…

Omar’s situation made me think of a statement of War Child:

“You can get a child out of the war, but how can you get the war out of a child?”

Every child deserves a fair chance in life.

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