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  • Writer's pictureVoices Without Borders

Redwan's story

Updated: Jul 23, 2020

My name is Redwan Foze Elhassan, I’m 44 years old. My hometown is in Raas Aleen, a Kurdish tribe in the northeastern Kurdish-inhabited region of Syria. After the outbreak of the civil war, I became displaced. In 2014, I fled to Qamishli, a city along the Syrian-Turkish border. I was with my family, including my wife, 6 girls, and 1 boy. We were there for 4 years. Life was tough but livable.

However, one of my dear kids, Eleen, has pediatric cancer. She was only four years old at that time. She urgently needed to acquire treatment of acute lymphocytic leukemia.

In 2018, my wife took our kids to Erbil, capital and most populated city in the Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq, to start Eleen’s treatment. It takes time so I have to be with them too. However, the Syrian government didn’t allow me to leave the country. I had to cross the border through an illegal way. I paid 350 dollars to a smuggler and finally reunited with my whole family.

To settle in Erbil and continue Eleen’s treatment, I need to earn money for my family. The living price is high in Erbil compared to that in Qamishli. I started to work as a driver. I drove passengers from Erbil to the Syrian border. Some Syrian refugees wanted to go back to Syria, and they called me to pick them up. I got two to three requests per week.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, I woke up in the morning, and went to work. Sometimes I had to send Eleen to hospital and return to work. The other kids went to school. We didn’t go outside a lot. Eleen has leukemia. If some kids get sick, she will get infected easily.

You know, many kids go on picnics with their family, but it’s not for Eleen.

I already didn’t go out that much as I was afraid that some problems would happen to me when I was outside, such as passing checkpoints. I didn’t know many people here. If some problems happen, I can’t do anything as I didn’t have any power in Erbil. Sometimes we visit our relatives here, but not that often.

After the coronavirus arrived, the Kurdish regional government announced a one-week curfew. I was like, curfew? What's a curfew? I never experienced that. I was shocked.

At first, the government said it would be just a week, so I thought, okay, it’s going to be okay. We can even take a bit of a rest. However, the curfew extended again and again. It became a big problem. No jobs, no food, no money - what can I do for my family? Now it’s already 4 months!

I can’t work and earn income, but I still have to pay $240 rent per month. I have a brother in Germany, and he supports me financially. Yet, it can’t last for long. I should work. As the father of the family, I should work for my family.

The government asked us not to go out, but no, I’ll go out. I should support my family; buy food for my family.

In the first month, I still had a budget to buy masks and disinfectants from a pharmacy. We cleaned the whole house and protected the kids very carefully. Since the second month, we haven’t had enough savings to buy medical items as it’s getting expensive.

The price of masks, for example, surged from 20,000 Iraqi dinar (16.7 dollars) to 25,000 (20.9 dollars)! We can’t afford it. So, we stop wearing masks but Eleen.

The problem is that 2020 is essential for Eleen’s life.

She used to go to the hospital depending on her health conditions, usually two or three times a month. Two months before Covid-19, she had a bone marrow transplant. After that, it’s essential for her to go to hospital to do blood tests and treatment every 15 days.

If her situation gets better, she might end the cancer this year. However, the Covid-19 broke out.

Kids are supposed to stay home but Eleen has to continue her treatment. She needs to wear a mask to the hospital too. Apart from that, the price of the medical bill and medicine for the treatment is rising. I asked different NGOs many times to support us. Some registered Eleen’s name but very few gave us support. JIM-NET is one of the few. My brother in Germany supports me. I also borrowed money from my acquaintances.

Within these four months, kids have just stayed home, stayed home, nothing else. They can’t go to school. They can’t do many things but watch YouTube and play games.

They playhouse at home. The kids pretended they were cooks and provided meals for us. Before the interview, I went to pick up the staff. I asked Eleen to stay home. But she said, no, no, no, I want to go with you because I want to see the outside world.

The economic situation gets worse. It was the first time my wife and I had a discussion about going back to Syria since I arrived in Erbil. I didn't want to go back as there are still wars in some areas and many problems concern me too. However, I feel I didn’t have any other choice. It’s too expensive to live here if I can’t work. I could use the rental fees I pay to give my kids a better living condition in Syria. I have a house there and the living cost is not as high as the cost in Erbil.

Moreover, I know I’m a refugee here. Although the government said they support us, it’s just a catchword. I am inferior to others. I am not a normal human being here.

However, Eleen still needs access to treatment. If we return to Syria, we have to go to Damascus to maintain her treatment, which is 18-20 hours away.

Everything gets complicated in my mind, every night when I am in bed, thinking what should I do, what should I do. I am too worried to sleep.

I also don’t believe the number of confirmed cases that the government shows. I haven’t seen anyone who has coronavirus from my eyes. During these four months, I only knew one person who got caught and was recovered a week later.

It’s not about Covid-19. It’s a political issue with neighboring countries.

We want peace. I hope one day every Syrian can return to their hometown. When I was in Syria before the war, I could sleep in a free place, I could do anything, sleep everywhere without worries. I used to feel very safe in my country.

I really hope to feel safe and see peace again. I want to go back home.

Post-interview notes:

I met Redwan through my friend André who works for an NGO based in Erbil. He told me a family wanted to share their story and explained me about Eleen’s situation. A day before the interview, the government announced another lockdown. The interview seemed to be postponed because of that. However, our lovely interpreter Reem, also a Syrian, said “no problem! I can manage it.“

Redwan is very gentle. He talked about his family all the time during the interview. He really wants to be a good father but the situation he has faced continued to frustrate him. Eleen was there since the beginning of the interview. She wore a mask and looked at the laptop camera with so much curiosity. “Who is this girl? Where is she?“ I can feel she asked me many questions through her beautiful eyes. She sometimes smiled, sometimes laying down on Redwan’s leg, and sometimes giving Redwan a hug.

There was so much care and love between them, even though I was not there physically. Eleen, I hope you can get through your treatment and make a full recovery soon. And for the family, I hope you all will gradually regain peace in your mind and will be able to return home safely.

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