Below is a personal reflection written by Helena Scott,
the Jordan Country Director for American FRRME and Mosaic Middle East in the UK.
She reflects on two events, 7 years apart, which changed the lives of thousands.
The Dark Days
The Nineveh Plain/Mosul, Iraq, August 6th, 2014
Kabul, Afghanistan, August 15th, 2021
Last month on August 6th, I had the true privilege of celebrating the Iraqi Christian refugee community I work with in Madaba, Jordan. We were celebrating ‘Hope Restored’ for these people, how far they’ve come and what they’ve overcome on the 7th anniversary of the ISIS invasion of their homeland in Iraq.
August 6th, 2014 is a date they will never forget. It was on that date that many had to flee in terror overnight, beginning their journey as IDPs (internally displaced persons) and then refugees. Many of them lost loved ones to murder, families were separated from one another, and thousands experienced wide-ranging trauma at the hands of ISIS. They refer to the day as “the dark day”. The world largely turned a blind eye as religious minorities were persecuted, raped, murdered, kidnapped, tortured, and displaced from their homes and communities. In most cases, they had to flee with only what they could carry, their bank accounts were frozen with the inability to withdraw funds or prepare in any manner before leaving. Most thought it would be temporary, and that they would return once it was safe for them. For most that “safe” day has yet to come. Over the past 4 and a half years, I have had the honor of working closely with the Iraqi refugee communities living in Jordan. I have come to know their stories, admire their resilience, and respect their ability to overcome their trauma and pain despite the daily hardships they face living life as refugees in a foreign land. Many of them had supported US or NATO /allied forces efforts in Iraq and were under direct threat by ISIS. For example, we work with a man (he will remain unnamed for security reasons) who was a security guard at the US Embassy in Baghdad. His uncle was a translator for US forces and was targeted and killed by ISIS along with his 6-year-old nephew. This family received many direct threats for their work supporting US and NATO forces. Even with these direct threats and supporting work documents they are still waiting on their SIV package (Special Immigrant Visa). They’ve been waiting for 7 years. This is just one of the thousands of families we work with. They are still waiting in transit, living as refugees unable to move forward in their lives. They wait for the long-sought-after SIV package promised to those who have supported international efforts, for immigration to America, Canada, or Australia. I personally have interviewed countless refugee families with evidence of their ties supporting the US and allied forces’ efforts. 7 years later, it’s hard for them to maintain hope that they have not been forgotten by the countries they supported.
On August 6th, 2014, I was living and working in Kabul, Afghanistan. Working for a small international law firm deeply involved in some pro-bono human rights cases, I was engaged in the fight against rampant corruption for nearly 3 years in an attempt to promote and instill ‘rule of law’ in Afghanistan. I remember hearing about ISIS invading Iraq and the devastation and chaos wrought to the Christian, Yazidi, and other minority religious communities there. I will never forget that day. Now, 7 years later I have seen how far-reaching the impact of that day still is. So many of these refugees are waiting in limbo, in the hope of eventually getting to Australia, Canada, America, or somewhere in Europe. Hoping that the world will not give up on them or turn a blind eye; hoping to believe in a brighter future.
7 years later, one week after we celebrated what these Iraqi refugees have overcome despite the many obstacles in their paths, the official fall of Kabul, Afghanistan took place. August 15, 2021, has become another Dark Day that we will never forget. However, this time, I believe what happened was completely preventable (the way the withdrawal occurred) which made it even more painful to watch.
Every Afghan contact I have ever met reached out to me, begging for support during this time, terrified at what is to come if they remain in the country; trying any way, any contact, to try and get out. For the Afghans who did escape, so many of their fates are unknown as they begin their new lives as displaced people and as refugees in new countries. They have yet to know what is to come.
My message to the world is this: this is a humanitarian crisis and the time to act is now.
Politics aside, we must unite to welcome Afghans as they start their new lives as refugees and simultaneously not forget others displaced, such as the Iraqi refugees I have worked with in Jordan for the last 4 and a half years. We must also not forget those left behind. Now it is more important than ever to engage in advocacy support on behalf of refugees, from all crises. Their voices must be heard. I certainly hope it will not take 7 more years for those displaced to have the ability to work, provide for their families, have access to education and medical support, and basic human rights. Last week, in Jordan a 20-year-old refugee said to me: “I don’t want to think about this situation, as it is the story of my life, I have experienced it, it is too painful.”
Throughout my time working with the refugee communities here in Jordan, when I’ve asked the question “what is your dream?” the most common answer is “My dream is for my family to live in peace, for my children to be able to grow up in safety and to experience childhood”. I implore the international communities to help in whatever ways we can, to help keep hope alive for these people of all backgrounds, all faiths; let their voices be heard, their dreams come alive, and let us not turn a blind eye.