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Violating Sanctions

An American Woman’s Listening Tour Through the Axis of Evil

“A Person of Concern”

The Author By Kelly Hayes-Raitt | May 27th, 2008 | Comments No Comments

The dignified man tries to hide his desperation under congenial smiles and nods while thrusting a paper in my hand.

“I am an engineer, a civil engineer. My wife is also an engineer. She worked for the Ministry of Oil. You know, it stayed open after the Americans came.”

I remember back to my trip to Baghdad, 3 months after the US stormed the ancient city. The only government building that wasn’t bombed, burned or looted was the Ministry of Oil.

“They said you work for the Oil Ministry, and you take money from Americans, so you must be rich,” Mohammad quotes the insurgents who kidnapped him, held him for 2 weeks and demanded an outrageous ransom of $100,000. He was held for 2 weeks, shocked with electrodes and beaten. He demonstrated, thrusting the heel of his hand at his head.

“Three cars came to our home in the evening with 8 or 10 men, some wearing Iraqi police uniforms. They had guns, machine guns. They searched the house; they destroyed the house. They handcuffed me and put me in the trunk of the car, blindfolded. I don’t know where they took me. They tortured me. ‘I’m not affiliated with any political party!’ I told them. They came with a knife and said, ‘We will slaughter you if you don’t call your wife for money.’

“My wife negotiated my release for $20,000. Friends and relatives gave money. They (the kidnappers) told us, ‘You are Christians, you are atheists, so you have to leave Iraq.’ They told my wife to leave her job. My daughter was finishing her degree as an engineer. My other daughter has a science degree. My son was finishing his electronics degree.”

His children left their studies and fled to Amman with their parents. His son was able to make it to London to finish his studies. His daughters languish in Amman, unable to continue their studies or work.

He points to the paper in my hand. It is his UNHCR Refugee Certificate, with passport headshots of his wife and himself in each corner, stamped with the UN’s globe and laurel logo.

To Whom It May Concern

This is to certify that the above-named person has, on the basis of available information, been recognized as a refugee by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, pursuant to its mandate.

As a refugee, he is a person of concern to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and should, in particular, be protected from forcible return to a country where he would face threats to his life or freedom. Any assistance accorded to the above-named individual would be most appreciated.

This certificate does not entitle the holder to a residency permit or a work permit in Jordan. The issuance of such permits is solely within the compentence of the Jordanian authorities.

He hopes the coveted paper is his ticket to a country where he and his family will be allowed to work, to contribute, to use their education. He implores me to call the UNHCR on his behalf.

Helplessly, I look up from his emphatic gesturing to see a room full of Iraqis, desperate to regain their lives.

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