By Terri Sloan
Leeka awoke confused. It wasn’t quite daylight yet but she had a sense that her surroundings were unfamiliar. Maybe more by smell than sight. She heard the rhythmic breathing of the man sleeping next to her. Oh yes. Married. New home, new husband, new life. She really hardly knew him. But she had expected this day to come her entire life.
Leeka and Hussam made their home in Hussam’s parents’ house. For now, this was how it would be. There were many expectations in this house, but possibly not more than her own home. War had haunted her existence as far back as she could remember. And now, in post-Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, things could sometimes seem even less certain.
Hussam had a job as a law enforcement officer. He didn’t talk about his job much, but he took care of her and was able to provide for their own home and eventual three children. Even though Leeka had attended college and had a degree in History, she had never held a job. This is the way of her culture. Hussam was a good provider and she had children to attend to, so this was the way of Leeka also. But sometimes she would become depressed. She felt so alone and she was certain there were things he was keeping from her. She kept her feelings to herself.
Through the years, she began to notice her husband’s behavior changing. He was more insistent that she stay close to home. He wasn’t sleeping as well. He said even less about his job. He was obviously under some pressure and Leeka felt helpless to help him. Eventually, he sat with her and quietly spoke. Her mind drifted. She didn’t want to hear his words. She couldn’t process the information.
“Death threats…” he was saying. “I’ve been receiving death threats. Our family is in danger. We must leave Iraq. We must leave soon.”
To pack up three small children and sneak off into the night was something Leeka had never considered a possibility. How could they do this? How could they safely travel? How could they care for the children properly? But she agreed. If we are to keep our lives, we must flee. We must escape this danger.
They saved some money. They sold some jewelry. Leeka asked her parents for a loan for ‘new furniture.’ They felt it was important that Leeka and Hussam didn’t behave suspiciously. No one could know about their plan.
Hussam arranged travel to Northern Iraq. Even though it was their own country, they looked out of place. People would notice them. They had to keep moving. They made it into Kurdistan which was a little safer, but they knew they mustn’t linger. The presence of militia meant it wouldn’t be long before they were discovered and probably arrested.
They quickly found a smuggler who would arrange passage through Turkey into Greece and eventually Europe. They climbed mountains in Turkey. They laid in an overcrowded dinghy to cross rough seas. They made it to the Greek islands and eventually to Athens. But a wall had been built and the EU-Turkey deal had been struck. Passage to Europe was no longer an option. Worse, Hussam was misidentified as a smuggler and taken to jail. Leeka was alone. In a camp. A sparse, dirty, miserable, military-run camp. With three small children.
Leeka’s sister, Seham, had offered for the family to come and live with her in Australia. But Leeka was not leaving Greece without her husband. So she waited.
Volunteers and the humanitarian group Humanwire helped move Leeka and the boys into a modest apartment in Athens. And they waited.
Thankfully, after a few months, Hussam was cleared of the charges and reunited with his family. Now they wait together.
Refugees in foreign countries generally cannot legally hold jobs. The hope of the refugee is to reach his final destination to get asylum paperwork started as quickly as possible. But often they land in an interim country and become dependent on the grace of God and the kindness of others.
Leeka and Hussam are in the process of applying to live with Seham in Australia now. But it’s more waiting. And without the help of others, the threat of doing without, even suffering, is very real. They’re still just a little ‘grace and kindness’ away from returning with their small children to a miserable camp and suffering.
A single refugee is a tragedy.A million refugees are a statistic.
When we hear of the plight of the refugee, we hear statistics. It’s easy to dehumanize the humans who are suffering in these situations. But when we hear the story of ONE refugee, we see a human being. When we hear the story of a refugee family, we see a family – not unlike our own families. Thank you for reading this story; The Story of Leeka and Hussam, Human Beings; the story of a young family making their way from fear, oppression, and violence to safety and freedom in a land down under.
How will their story end?