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Q&A: Iraqi victim of domestic abuse seeks a new life in Sweden

Q&A: Iraqi victim of domestic abuse seeks a new life in Sweden

Mrs Hussein has been living in Jordan for the past seven years after fleeing Baghdad with her family. She has since suffered a lot and divorced her husband after he started abusing her. The mother of six recently told her story to UNHCR Senior Global Regional Public Information Officer Abeer Etefa.
6 July 2007
People go about their business in downtown Amman. But life in the Jordanian capital Amman is not so easy for Iraqi refugees like our Q&A subject, Mrs Hussein.

Tell us how you ended up in Jordan

We came to Jordan in 2000 seeking refuge from the cruelty of the [Saddam Hussein] regime. My husband was a physician and he was serving in the army when he refused to perform punitive operations - cutting ears or amputating fingers - on soldiers avoiding military service. He thought this was cruel and he refused to perform these types of operations so he was persecuted by the regime.

We fled to Amman to seek refuge from retaliation. We were accepted by the United States and then a couple of months before departure, the tragic and black day that impacted our future - September 11 - took place. This put the plan for our resettlement on hold and we have been stuck in Amman since that time. It is hard to be here with no future, no perspective, no job, and no authorization to work. Then the invasion of Iraq took place in 2003 and suddenly we were one case out of hundreds of thousands of people who fled the violence in Iraq and sought refuge in Jordan.

When and why did your husband start abusing you?

My husband became increasingly stressed out and suffered severe depression. With six children, no job and staying illegally in the country, he was frustrated and then started taking it out on me. He became abusive verbally and physically. One day he started to hit me violently and I sustained serious injuries. That was the day when I realized that I could not go on.

What did you do?

I contacted UNHCR to seek their help. The staff immediately helped me and my children. I did not call or see anyone for a few days.... I also filed for divorce. My husband left for Iraq afterwards and the first thing that he did when he arrived in Baghdad was to tell his family and my family that I was prostituting myself in Amman and that I was leading a life that is against our religion, culture and customs. I called him by phone and asked, "How can you do this to the mother of your children? Why do you taint my reputation when you know that I am innocent of all these accusations?"

He bluntly told me that he would not let me live in Amman peacefully while he is in daily danger by being in Baghdad. Can you imagine what my family will think of me? We are talking here about tribal groups. They will kill me if they see me, without even verifying the horrible accusations that my former husband spread about me. I have no future in Iraq. You would be wrong to think that they would ask me whether this is true or not.

How are you coping in Amman?

Living in Amman is extremely difficult for a single woman with six children. I have worked in some cleaning jobs, but in some cases I have been subjected to sexual harassment so I decided that I would not work in private homes anymore. I am also afraid of being caught working illegally. This is a crime in Jordan which means immediate deportation. I cannot risk my life here because deportation for me is like a death sentence.

I was able through the help of some people to find a job as a cleaner in a non-governmental organization for US$1 working from early morning to late evening. But someone from the government called ... and I had to stop working with this NGO. Life in Amman is incredibly expensive and with six mouths to feed, what can I do.

What about the prospects of resettlement?

My file has again been referred for resettlement, this time to Sweden. I have been interviewed by the Swedish and I am hoping that I will have a chance for a new life away from danger. I want to be able to raise my children without fear - fear of being deported; fear of my ex-husband or one of my family coming after me; fear of the unknown.

Pray for me. Pray that I find safety and refuge somewhere away from here. I need this for my children. Many women like me have borne the heavy weight and stress of living as refugees. They had to work to support their families, but that did not spare them from violence from their husbands. I sometimes think it is not fair. Yes, many of the men are stressed out, but why pour all of the anger on the women.