“My dreams have been shattered”
Aws has been in Luxembourg since September 2015 and has integrated himself very well in the meantime. He is one of few refugees offered a permanent job after several internships.
But just one day after the trained engineer signed his long-awaited work contract, he received very bad news. Aws, his wife and his children will be unable to stay in Luxembourg. They have been denied international protection, in spite of Aws being threatened in Baghdad and his son having been abducted once before. The problem is, Aws has no proof for his son’s abduction.
For Aws and many other Iraqis, this decision has felt like a slap in the face. Since the end of 2016, an increasing number of Iraqis have had to experience a similar situation. The asylum-seeking procedure is very strict and precise, as the immigration authority takes pains to identify asylum seekers who lie in order to remain in Luxembourg.
“When we received the decision from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, my wife was crying the whole day,” says Ahmed from Baghdad. “We didn’t eat anything for the whole day. I felt that time stopped at that moment. All my dreams have been shattered.”
Now that Ahmed knows he can’t stay in Luxembourg, he thinks a lot about the sacrifices he made to get here. He then often thinks about the dangerous route they had to take through the Mediterranean Sea, called “Death Road” by refugees.
The risk Ahmed and his family took at the time now seems completely out of proportion.
“When my wife and my children came to Luxembourg about two months ago to join me, their ship sank, and they swam in the sea for about five hours until they reached an uninhabited island,” Ahmed says. His wife and kids then had to wait for 12 hours -- hoping help would arrive.
“I feel that all my suffering in the death journey to Europe has been in vain.”
It is unclear for Ahmed where he can go now. The family cannot return to their home town. “The militias wrote threats on the wall of our house. I think that means that my family must have been killed.” As long as the militias go unchecked by the state, he says, there are no real safe areas in Iraq.
Ahmed’s brother Thoalfakaer is also shocked.
“I thought at first that only men were the ones to get rejected in the asylum application,” the young man from Baghdad says. Now, he, his wife and his daughter have been asked to leave Luxembourg within 30 days of the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s decision.
But Thoalfakaer, like every other asylum seeker, has the right to appeal the decision. Every asylum seeker in Luxembourg now receives a pro bono lawyer. Since the end of 2016, an increasing number of lawyers have been fighting for the right of their clients to stay.
Questioned about the subject, Foreign Affairs Minister Jean Asselborn (LSAP) says: “I know that these decisions are very hard for the rejected Iraqis. However, the decisions are made according to international criteria.
“The procedure is being carried out very scrupulously by the immigration authority and its employees. It would be wrong for me as a minister to get involved in this procedure.”
He also notes that 79% of Iraqis whose asylum requests were processed received a permit to stay in Luxembourg last year. Since the start of the refugee crisis in the summer of 2015 however, only 317 of 700 Iraqi requests were treated. For some 400 Iraqis, the decision about their future is still to be made.
Muneer was unable to convince the immigration agency of the truth of his statements. “I have given the ministry serious proof of my situation in Iraq. I have wounds from five gunshots,” he says during our interview. The immigration authority, however, questioned the authenticity of the medical reports.
“There were persistent threats against me until one day there was a threat to kill my children. That was the point where I decided I had to leave my country,” he says. It is clear to the 42-year-old that his life would be in danger if he returned to his country. “My name has been circulating on the internet and on social network sites in Iraq. I cannot go back.”
Mustafa cannot understand how the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Luxembourg can consider any region in Iraq as safe. He was optimistic he would be granted the refugee status he had hoped for: “It was really unexpected.”
Mustafa has been in Luxembourg for more than 16 months and learned French and Luxembourgish during that time. He also made a lot of effort to find a job: “I did many internships that were organised by associations and non-governmental organisations,” he says. “I waited eagerly to get a positive answer on my refugee status to complete my studies at the university. Without the status and the residency, refugees are not allowed to apply to university.”
But what irritated him most was that the Foreign Affairs Ministry suggested that Iraqis could simply live in a different region of Iraq, a region in which they would be less threatened. “If that were possible, do you think this many people would cross the sea to come to Europe and take that death journey upon them?”
Fahad has not received an answer to his application for asylum yet: “I’m very afraid of the answer.”
For him, living in Iraq is no alternative either. “My brother was killed in front of my eyes in Baghdad. There is no law in Iraq to protect citizens from the militias. They are an influential authority that stands above the state.”
Aws agrees with this. “A rejection is not simply a rejection for us. It’s our death ticket.”