Ahmad Aziz is six. Now he is happy, safe and living with his father in Erbil, however up until recently Ahmad’s situation was far more precarious. Ahmad’s family comes from western Mosul and though he himself was born in Erbil in 2011, he has spent most of his childhood growing up the family’s home back in Mosul. QANDIL teams spoke with Ahmad and his father and their story is representative of many of the issues faced by parents and children in northern Iraq.
In 2010 Omar, Ahmad’s father, left Mosul to find work in Erbil. He came to the city with six siblings hoping to earn money to send back to other members of the family who had decided to stay in Mosul. Soon Omar had fallen in love, gotten married and in 2011 he welcomed the birth of his first son, Ahmad. Sadly the marriage was not to last. Omar and his wife, tried hard, but could not reconcile their differences and they decided to separate. Ahmad was only two years old. In 2013 Omar could not imagine how different life was to become for him and his young son, despite the challenges, he was happy, providing and caring for Ahmad in Erbil. All this was to change.
In 2014 life in northern Iraq was upended by the events in Ninewa. The swift advance of ISIS and the fall of Mosul took people by surprise and it caused a lot of suspicion between different communities. To help combat a deteriorating security situation all persons residing in Erbil who were from Mosul, were asked to leave. Omar reluctantly obliged. He reconnected with his family in western Mosul and Ahmad began to spend time with his grandparents and other members of his family who he had never met. Life in Mosul was difficult for Omar and his family. They were all living under an oppressive and draconian system that banned basic activities like using a mobile phone. Omar could not work, he could not provide for Ahmad and he could not take living under such conditions any longer. In late 2014 Omar and his brother fled Mosul, again they hoped to come to Erbil, earn money and send some of it back to their parents, who were now caring for Ahmad in Mosul.
For three years Ahmad had no contact with his father. Ahmad’s grandparents took good care of him and tried contacting Omar, but were repeatedly threatened with beatings or worse. They made the choice to care for Ahmad and hope that their own son, Ahmad’s father, was safe. Contact between Mosul and Erbil was impossible. Towards the end of 2016 the situation began to change once more and a concerted military effort was mobilised to force ISIS out of Mosul. By early 2017 military forces were close to Ahmad’s home and his grandparents decided to leave taking Ahmad, now six, with them. They managed to escape and found relative safety in Khazir IDP camp, near Khabat in Kurdistan. QANDIL teams interviewed the family on 15 January 2017. They noted down important details of the family’s life in Mosul, the hardships they had suffered and the requirements they had as a result of their story. Ahmad, seemed distant throughout the interviews and when asked where his father is he answers despondently “he is working in Erbil so as to get me money”. The QANDIL team were shocked and wondered if there was a way of reaching Ahmad’s father and reconnecting him to his son. After some investigation the team learned that Omar was living in Qushtapa, a compound in Erbil.
The team contacted Omar, who miraculously already knew his son and his parents were at Khazir. He explained that he had tried to go to see his son at the camp, but had been denied entry, Omar lacks official documentation stating that Ahmad is his son. Omar knew that Ahmad had been registered at birth in Erbil, but remembered that he hadn’t kept copies of the registration following his divorce from Ahmad’s mother. Omar was scared. He did not know what had happened to Ahmad’s mother, he did not know how he could prove that he was Ahmad’s father and how he could convince the authorities to let the boy come and live with him. QANDIL teams spoke with the security at Khazir and tried to explain the situation, but were met with resistance. After another agonizing delay Omar managed to locate his ex-wife and a copy of Muhammad’s civil ID. Omar was finally allowed to meet with his son inside Khazir. The visit went well and both Omar and Ahmad cried tears of joy upon being reunited.
QANDIL continued to facilitate visits between Ahmad and Omar, whilst also advocating to allow the boy to go and live with his father. At first the security were sceptical, even with the ID they were concerned that Omar was trying to mislead them and abduct Ahmad illegally. Rita Khorany and Alan Rasheed, part of the QANDIL protection team that had documented the case kept up their cause, pushing with the security and trying to get them to allow Ahmad to leave. On 29 January, two weeks after they had conducted the initial assessment and had met Ahmad, they were successful. QANDIL arranged for Omar to come to the camp and meet his son to take him back to Erbil. The following day the team phoned Omar to ask how Ahmad as adjusting, Omar, hardly disguising his joy responded “he’s so happy, he’s got new friends already!”
QANDIL teams encounter individuals and families like Omar and Ahmad every day. It is a humble reminder that even the most simple joys such as holding your young child close, have been effected by the multiple crises affecting Iraq. QANDIL mobile protection teams form a critical part of the organization’s response to the Mosul emergency, but are also a central part of the ongoing work of QANDIL to uphold the rights of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and refugees across the region.
Names of the family members have been changed to protect their identities.
Story by and photos by Rita Khorany, QANDIL.
Edited by Josh Ede, QANDIL.