Hasnaa and Omer

Hasnaa and Omer fleed political and religious persecution from Iraq in 2014. They ended up in Finland. After srtuggling in asylum process jor three years, they were finally granted a residence permit.

Omer was 17 years old when he fled from his home country, Iraq, for the first time. His uncles had worked in Saddam Hussein’s government, and the regime change in 2003 meant trouble for the Sunni family. In 2006, Omer was kidnapped and tortured by Shia militia who threatened to kill him. They extorted USD 20,000 from Omer’s father. The family was able to pay the sum by selling a car.

 

After being released on ransom, Omer fled to Syria where he lived for three and a half years, working in fast-food restaurants. In 2010, Omer returned to Iraq and started studying electrical engineering at university, but the security situation soon took a turn for the worse.

 

In the spring 2014, Omer’s Shia supervisor heard that Omer was in danger and told Omer’s father about this. Omer had to leave Baghdad immediately, so he flew to Istanbul. His family sold everything they owned and soon followed him. In Turkey, Omer’s father fell seriously ill. The family spent their last savings on medical expenses, but he passed away.

 

Hasnaa was working as a nurse in Baghdad. The poor security situation had worried her for a long time, and she hoped to be able to follow Omer. The last straw was when an enraged member of the militia entered the hospital and started shooting. Bullets were flying all around Hasnaa. She left her job and fled to Turkey in the summer 2015.

 

In Turkey, Omer and Hasnaa got married. They had been seeing each other in secret for several years, as Hasnaa’s family of Shia Kurds did not approve of Hasnaa dating a Sunni Arab. After hearing that Omer and Hasnaa had wed, her family threatened to kill both of them.

 

Turkey was awash with Middle Eastern restlessness and people running from war, and work was nearly impossible to find. Omer and Hasnaa ran out of savings. They did what hundreds of thousands of others did in the summer 2015 — they sold their remaining valuables and paid a smuggler to take them across the Mediterranean.

 

After the frightening journey, Hasnaa and Omer reached the Greek islands and travelled across Europe. In September 2015, they arrived in Finland and applied for asylum. First they lived in reception centres, but those proved restless due to the ethnic conflicts among Iraqis. Hasnaa and Omer were afraid. In January 2016, they went to live with a Finnish woman in Kontula. There, they were able to live in peace and learn about Finnish culture, helped by their hostess. They also found work, Omer as a construction worker and Hasnaa as a personal assistant.

 

In autumn 2016, the situation took a darker turn. Hasnaa and Omer were denied asylum. They became genuinely concerned as they were sure they would be killed if returned to Iraq. Fear took an emotional and physical toll on both of them. In the spring 2017, Hasnaa and Omer had to leave their accommodation due to renovation work. They lived in temporary housing and in a reception centre before finding a new permanent home with a Finnish family. In the summer 2017, Hasnaa’s health declined due to the stress. She ended up being treated in a psychiatric hospital for two months.

 

Next winter, Hasnaa and Omer started to see signs of hope again. The administrative court had accepted their appeal and they were called for a new asylum interview. Hasnaa’s long-term dream was also fulfilled – she became pregnant.

 

In July 2018, Hasnaa and Omer were able to move to their first rental apartment. Only two days later their son was born. During the same week, they also received a decision on one year’s residence permit. Finally, in December 2019, uncertainty was replaced by security when Hasnaa and Omer’s residence permit was extended with four years. Now they can live a similar life as any Finnish family, without fear, as they have hoped for.

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