Zeid is from Baghdad, Iraq. As a teenager his family were always on the move because of his father’s job. Then, in 2003, the war broke out and because of his father’s position it was too unsafe for the family to return home.
Thirteen years on, Zeid is volunteering for Muslim Hands as an Arabic translator for the Syrian refugees pouring into Austria. Our team there spoke to him about being separated from his family for five years, living in limbo as an Iraqi refugee and why he is now working to help other families fleeing conflict.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Zeid. I am an Iraqi refugee here in Austria. I came here two months ago. I’ve been in this dilemma of where to go my whole life. You just keep going from country to country hoping that that country will remain stable and that you have a future there. It does take its toll on you. When I got here I was reunited with my family who I hadn’t been with for five years. Now my parents are older it’s good to finally be with them.
How did you become a refugee?
Well we always travelled around for my father’s work. We were abroad when the war broke out in 2003 and then it was just too dangerous to go back. We went to Yemen and then in 2011 the revolution happened and Yemen became too dangerous for my family. We were getting threatened by different parties and groups so we had to leave.
Where did you go then?
My father and brother left for Austria and I went to Jordan with my mum. As I was over eighteen it was very difficult for me to get into Austria. My mum left for Austria and my brother was able to get his wife and two children there, but I was stuck in Jordan. I wasn’t a citizen so work was so hard to find. Work permits were so hard to get hold of. So there I was, an eighteen year old stuck in a foreign country by himself with nothing to do. I had no income so my parents were sending me money.
Why did you decide to leave Jordan?
Well, eventually I made friends who managed to get me a job, alhamdulillah. But I still didn’t have a residency so I was working illegally. If the police had caught me I would probably have ended up on the Iraqi border so I had to leave Jordan too.
What’s it like staying away from your family for so long?
It’s difficult. I would see all my Muslim friends getting together with their families on Eid and my Christian friends were spending Christmas with their families and here I was. Just there. I was lucky because my friend’s families started taking me in, calling me to join them in celebrations. They would even have a special gift for me at Christmas. I was so fortunate to have met such wonderful people in my life, but I can’t say the same for everyone else. Even though I was under the threat of being sent back to Iraq, which was basically a death sentence, I was still in a secure country, not a war zone. Alhamdulillah, I had it so much better than a lot of refugees too. So yes it was painful being away from my family, especially when they needed me and I couldn’t be there, but at least I was safe.
Did any organisations help?
I applied to the UNHCR. I stuck with them for about four years, but nothing came of it so I had to just find my own way here. I couldn’t rely on anyone.
And now you are helping to translate for Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Austria. You were once there. How does it feel to be helping them?
Well really, I wasn’t once there because these people have it much worse than I ever did. I was blessed to have not been in a war torn country. As I have met these people and spoken with them I realise that they are the kindest human beings and they don’t deserve what is happening to them. It is truly heart-breaking.
And why do you want to help these people?
Now that, alhamdulillah, I am with my family in a safe place and I’m happy I’m not just going to sit at home and watch the Austrians do all the work with these refugees when my own brothers and sisters are coming here not knowing what to do. I had to do something.
What do you say to people when they praise you for the admirable work you are doing?
I’m not doing anything special. I’m doing the same thing you would do or that anyone would do. I had to help because the stories you hear are just devastating. It’s 2015 and a man doesn’t even know where his wife is. How is that possible? With all the technological advances that we have a husband still can’t find his wife or a brother is losing a brother at sea. But as long as there are people like the Austrians and the all the other people from different walks of life who are united in helping these people, there is hope. And I am just honoured to be a part of it all.