My Neighbour’s Story – Living the War Overseas

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By Amanda Cheung

I picked up the phone to call Awad* today. The phone on the other end picks up.
“Hello?” says a soft and distressed voice.
“How are you?” I ask.
“ISIS killed my brother today.”
Through heavy sobbing, I’m able to get pieces of the story.

Awad has lost two older brothers due to the Iraqi Civil War and ISIS. Aiyaz,* Awad’s brother was helping a friend’s family flee Iraq. He was driving them to Turkey but got caught at the checkpoint. He was arrested and kept for a month before he was killed.

Awad lives in Hamilton now with his wife and two children. He and his family are originally from Mosul in Northern Iraq. Ever since ISIS took over the city in June of 2014, thousands of people have fled for their lives, including Ahab’s mother, sister and niece, who are in Turkey right now.

His mother is 75 years old and used to be a farmer. His sister is 53 and used to work in a restaurants in Iraq. She would cook food, make desserts and coordinate delivery and pick up. His niece is 14 years old. She’s trying to pursue her studies in Turkey right now and is studying a bit as a refugee. It is hard for his family to stay because they have no rights in Turkey, but it is also hard for them to come to Canada because they don’t have the means. He doesn’t know where his brother’s family is because communication is rare. Two of his nephews are at refugee camps in Austria. His brother left behind a wife and three small children. Awad doesn’t know where they are.

This is one story in the hundreds of thousands of stories experienced by refugees everyday.

According to the UNHCR and Global Policy Forum, over 2 million Iraqis have been displaced to neighbouring countries. This is not including those who have been displaced internally. About 1/3 of the population lives in poverty and almost half a million have been killed since the Iraqi Civil War started in 2003. Bombings are a daily occurrence and for people like Awad, every second, he worries: will the next phone call I receive be to inform me of another death?

“The ones who are poor are the ones who get hurt,” says Awad. “We can’t leave. There is no justice. There is no justice, no more.”


*Names have been change to protect the identities of those in the story

Amanda Cheung is a freelance photojournalist currently working as the Special Initiatives Coordinator at the Immigrants Working Centre. Follow her on Twitter: @ahmcheung