Iraqi photographer clicks right away with Austrian host
KLAGENFURT, Austria – Iraqi photographer Souad Awad just moved in with Austrian kindergarten teacher Margarethe Kramer several weeks ago, but already the two have become friends.
Souad arrived in Austria in November 2015 and stayed for six months at an asylum accommodation centre in the city of Klagenfurt, where she helped in the kitchen.
In June this year, she had the opportunity to move in with Margarethe. They were matched through Diakonie, a Christian welfare organization in Austria.
"I feel like I am living in heaven now,” Souad said. “Margarethe is amazing – so sweet and her whole family is wonderful. I feel at home."
Margarethe, whose husband is away for work most of the week, is delighted to have the companionship.
Problems began for Souad, 49, in 2014 when she was working as a wedding photographer in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. She had been working late and was on her way home when a man forced her into his car at gunpoint and demanded to know why she was not veiled.
She said he fired questions at her: Where was she from? Didn’t she know that photography was forbidden?
"I feel she’s like my sister.”
She was not held for long, but soon afterwards her husband, who attended the mosque, started receiving threats against his life unless he divorced his wife.
A few weeks later, he was poisoned with thallium, a highly toxic compound. He was temporarily paralyzed and was admitted to hospital. When his health improved, he and Souad divorced.
The couple had no children, and in November 2014, a day after the papers were signed, she left Iraq without looking back.
She first went to Turkey, where she stayed for almost a year, and then crossed to Greece in a dinghy. The journey was long and difficult, not only because she was a woman travelling alone, but also because she has diabetes.
She boarded a train for Germany with other refugees but asked to be let off in Austria because she felt tired and ill, and went to the police and immigration authorities.
She said she had learned more German by living with Margarethe for one month than in the previous six months living in the asylum centre.
For Margarethe, having Souad around could not have worked out better.
"The whole experience enriched my life, with friendship and companionship," said Margarethe, 59.
She often comes home from work and finds delicious Iraqi food ready.
Souad said: "I love to cook. I clean the house because I want to help her. I feel she's like my sister.”
Margarethe admits that the experience helped change her perceptions. She had expected a headscarf-wearing woman with traditional views. “But I was really surprised when I met Souad," she said. "She is so independent, so open-minded and modern."
Souad is trying to learn German and hopes to continue working as a photographer and videographer in Austria.
This story is part of a series entitled No Stranger Place, which was developed and photographed by Aubrey Wade in partnership with UNHCR, profiling refugees and their hosts across Europe. One year on from the drowning of three-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi, thousands of people have come together to bridge cultural divides and language barriers, embracing compassion, hope and humanity – even as some European governments continue to build obstacles. Their generosity is an example to the world.