September 6, 2007

Fading away...

Hala, 65 years old, left Baghdad nearly two years ago.

The Jaysh al Mahdi threatened to burn her and her house down. Hala lived in what is considered a middle class neighborhood. Hala is single, has no kids and both of her parents have passed away.

Hala studied Business Administration and Economics and worked for a government ministry until the age of 55 when she took early retirement to look after her parents who were both sick. Hala lived off her pension and that of her father's.

Meanwhile, she too developed serious health problems one of which is rheumatoid athritis with bouts that debilitate her to the point of near paralysis. At times, she is unable to walk and is chair or bed ridden for weeks on end.

At age 63, after the threats received by the Mahdi Militia, Hala had no choice but to pack a suitcase and head to Amman with all her savings.

There she was granted a yearly residence permit and she lived off her savings until " God relieves this curse "...

A few months ago, the Jordanian authorities refused to renew her residency and she was told she was no longer welcomed to stay in Amman. Her options were either to apply for refugee status with the UNHCR or return back "home" to Baghdad. Of course Hala had lost the family house which was her only refuge.

Needless to say, Hala dutifully filled th UNHCR application forms and queued for days on end to finally be received for an "interview".

They asked her a lot of questions, some of them going back to her grandparents, her parents, their political affiliation, their jobs, their education...
Then, her personal history, her education, her work experience, her diplomas, her political leanings...and they also asked her what her hobbies were.

After several months of waiting and 4 interviews, they finally gave her "clearance" and agreed to grant her a refugee status that will enable her to be "placed" in another "host" country.

At first, they wanted to ship her to Sweden. She begged them not to, in view of her medical condition and cold weather means a slow painful death for her.
Then, they proposed Australia. Again, she begged them not to send her there. She knows absolutely no one in Australia. And she will be too far away from some of her distant relatives who also took refuge in Amman.

About a week ago, they informed her that she is to leave Amman in a fortnight to some place in the north west of the U.S. Again she pleaded with them, telling them that she knew absolutely no one in the U.S.

This time around, they told her categorically that she had run out of options and she had no choice but to accept or be forcibly deported back to the Iraqi border.

Not only that, but they also made her sign a paper by which she promised to find a job in the U.S within 3 months of her arrival. The reason for that clause was to ensure that Hala pays back to the UNCHR the costs of her transportation, air ticket and temporary lodging in America.

She cried out: " Who will employ me at age 65 and with my medical condition ?!"
To which they matter of factly replied : " In your application form you mentioned that one of your hobbies was hairdressing and the second is flower arrangement."
" But I have deformed joints, I can't stand up in a hairdressing salon all day ", she said.
" Then become a florist since you like flowers " was their reply.

The other conditional clause stipulates that she does not return to Jordan within 3 years. To which she replied : " I will probably be dead by then and will not find anyone to bury my corpse in Baghdad."

Hala will be leaving in a few weeks. She has 2'500 dollars to live on for 3 months until she finds a job as a florist in Northwest America. Then she is to PAY BACK to the UNHCR the price for being "saved".

They asked her to look at it positively. They said : "Look at this way, at 65, you will be starting a brand new life."

Hala had no choice but to agree. So she will be leaving Amman soon heading towards the unknown, not knowing anyone, and with deformed joints, seeking a job at age 65 as a florist.

Hala tries to console herself and says : " At least am better off than the rest. At least am not going to be sent back to hell."

Americans believed that they will be welcomed with flowers at the gates of Baghdad.
Iraqis are now forced to go and sell flowers to Americans.
There is a big lesson there for those who care to ponder...

Painting : Iraqi female artist, Hayat Jamil Hafidh.