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Return and Reintegration in Times of COVID-19 | “If you are homesick, come back”

A woman in her store in Baghdad.
Suhad left Iraq in 2015. With the support from ERRIN, she opened a small store in Baghdad upon her return © ETTC

 

It was a death treat following her son’s kidnapping that forced Suhad to leave.  

“My son was 24 when he disappeared on his way to the supermarket in 2013. To date, we do not know what has happened to him.” It was not the first time she lost a family member; her husband died at the frontline, leaving the woman alone with four sons. The last straw that made Suhad pack her bags and wave goodbye to Baghdad were the bombings of 2015. “My eldest son, Aisar, had made the way earlier and told us about the route. So the same year we decided to follow him to Austria.” They travelled through Turkey, where they almost fell victims to a violent robbery, through the sea and Greece, after 40 days on the way Suhad and her youngest sons reached the Austrian soil.

The family joined Aisar in the reception centre and jointly applied for asylum. “We remained there for only a month; afterwards we were given an apartment and the opportunity to follow language courses,” explains Suhad. However, after almost three years, the woman’s final claim for asylum was refused. Only one of the sons managed to secure a job and obtain a residence permit, opening a barber shop. “I just got mentally tired. I missed my relatives. I wanted to come back.”

A man with a taxi in Baghdad.
Suhad’s sons also benefitted from ERRIN assistance. Aisar decided to invest in a taxi © ETTC

Returning to Baghdad
Once again, Aisar paved a way for return. Suhad, fully informed about the ERRIN programme prior to her departure, followed him in December 2018.

“After I returned, Aisar was already renting a house, so I moved in with him. I was very excited and happy as I could finally see my family, relatives and sisters again. My other son, Salman, joined us back from Austria a year later.”

One week after her arrival, Suhad made her way to the ETTC office to apply for ERRIN assistance. She wanted to open a lingerie and cosmetic store. The implementation team assisted Suhad in paying for the rent, purchased the goods for the shop and monitored the business for 3 months. Suhad’s sons also benefitted from the ERRIN programme: Asar bought a taxi and Salman invested in a store selling electronic spare parts.

A man in a store with electronic spare parts, Baghdad.
Salaman in his store © ETTC

“The pandemic made our life turn around 180 degrees”
“Suhad ran the business in a good way, but coronavirus forced her to close the shop,” explains Farah, ETTC’s local counsellor. The pandemic took a heavy toll on Suhad’s sons, too – during the lockdown, with the strict measures in place Asar could not continue working as a taxi driver and was forced to sell his car. When the youngest son also closed his store as he could not attract enough customers, the entire family was left dependent on the war pension of their deceased father. That’s why Suhad’s hope for the immediate future is finding a way to reopen her younger son’s store again.

But the woman says that despite of the disastrous impact of the COVID-19 on her business, she chooses to focus on the bright side of things. “This situation affects us in a bad and a good way at the same time. The good thing is that are all in one house and we get to spend a lot of time with each other as a family.” She explains that while before she would spend all her time working in her store, now she’s got enough time on her plate to take care of her family – and herself.

“Even the pandemic did not change my return decision. With all the knowledge I have, I would have done it again. The most important thing was reuniting with my friends and family. So if you are abroad and homesick, just like I was, please come back,” concludes Suhad.

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