Fadiyya Alshawk is a dynamic woman. She is positive, intelligent, and she smiles a lot. Her energy is contagious. Fadiyya is also a refugee from Iraq.
On March 15, 2016 Fadiyya told her story at “Women’s Journeys, Women’s Voices,” a program for refugee women from Burundi, Rwanda, Bhutan, Bosnia, Vietnam, and Iraq to tell their stories. The program was held at Miami University Middletown (MUM) and hosted by MUM and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
How Fadiyya and her family became refugees
Fadiyya and her husband Mazin and their children Esso, Husam, Naider, and Maryam, left Baghdad in 2011 after their home was bombed and after years of danger and violence. Fadiyya courageously fought injustices in Iraq, but this time were forced to leave.
Fadiyya and her family left with just the clothes they were wearing and took a bus to Turkey. In Turkey, Fadiyya made cakes to support her family and worked 12 hours a day. Fadiyya and her family applied for refugee status, and after three meetings with officials, were approved to come to the United States in 2013. Fadiyya feels freedom, but says that in the last year she thinks more people look at her strangely, maybe because of the Hijab she wears.
The rest of Fadiyya’s family is back in Iraq, where it is still dangerous. In June last year, Fadiyya lost her brother. She speaks to her father and other brother on Facetime. It is very difficult for them to come to the U.S. as refugees, now more than in the past. “I miss my family and nothing else” she says about Iraq.
What is it like for Fadiyya and her family here?
In the U.S., Fadiyya took English classes but says she learns more English from working at a local grocery store and from her friends. She likes it here – “the summers are wonderful,” she says – but she misses her family and laments for Iraq. One person asked Fadiyya if she was Shiite or Sunni. She responded, “I am just myself.”
Her son Naider says that he likes the U.S. because it is “safe, the people are nice, I can work and go to school, and I am a citizen.”
Her husband Mazin used to fix and build houses in Iraq but because of an eye surgery is unable to work right now. Mazin also was injured badly in the Iraq-Iran War of the 1980s (1980-1988) but had surgery to fix these wounds in 1987.
Fadiyya’s mother-in-law Najat is learning English so she does not have to rely on interpreters at places like health clinics. Najat wishes she had a driver’s license to go where she wants, but she says she is mostly stuck watching television. She has children in Iraq and the U.S. and so she says “My heart is in the middle of Iraq and the U.S.”
Below is more of Fadiyya’s story, by Noor Amir.
“In 1973 a little girl was born named Fadiyya Alshawk. Fadiyya grew up in Iraq and had a simple childhood, which she cherished dearly. She received an education and would often travel to distant countries with her father such as Europe. She enjoyed a safe and secure life in Iraw and would be able to do little pleasures such as sleep with your door open, which would be a great danger in present Iraq. The president of Iraq during the time did not give citizens freedom and killed many Shiites, but life was peaceful compared to present day Iraq. When Saddam Hussein was killed Iraqi citizens thought they had gained the gift of freedom. Then everything changed and ISIS took over Iraq.
ISIS terrorized Iraq and killed many religious groups. They killed Shiites, Christians, Yazidi and many small religious groups. Fadiyya lived in a very dangerous area and there was constant killing and bombings. They killed so many people and left their bodies in the streets to rot. Most people ignored the corpses because of the fear that ISIS would persecute them and due to this lived in pure survival mode. Fadiyya could not be a bystander. Despite the regulations of ISIS, she would call American soldier to pick up the dead bodies. ISIS saw her talking to the American soldiers. They came to her house fully armed and shot her brother in law and cousin, but luckily they survived. Often bombing would occur in the street, and one day a bomb exploded in her house. After this incident they decided to leave everything behind and set off towards Baghdad. In Baghdad they lived very close to American facilities. ISIS often would bomb these facilities, and one day a bomb landed in her garden. It became impossible to continue living in Iraq. With little money and a few essentials, they fled towards Turkey. While living in the refugee camp, life was safe, but refugees were treated very poorly and had little rights. In order to gain citizenship, she would have to live five years in the camp. In Turkey, with the help of the UN, she gained political asylum in the US.”
Photo credits: John Schaefer, Ph.D, Miami University Middletown