An Iraqi father’s journey into displacementRamadan, a husband and a father of four children tells the story of saving his family after the so-called Islamic State took control of their town.
As children young and old celebrate their fathers across the Middle East on Father’s Day, June 21, stories of heroic men are abound, especially in Iraq – a country plagued with an ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis. One of those heroes is Ramadan, a 37-year-old father of four forced into displacement, but committed to keeping his family safe amid the war against the Islamic State (IS).
IS took control of Ramadan’s village in northern Iraq in 2014, quickly upending his peaceful life and the lives of thousands of others just like him. Two years under IS rule took a serious toll on his family who witnessed violence and harsh living conditions enforced by the militant group.
With the advance of the Iraqi army in 2016, things took and even worse turn when Ramadan and his family found themselves caught in the middle of fierce fighting.
“My village became very dangerous as the Iraqi army and IS exchanged fire and the area was bombed heavily,” he explained. “Coalition warplanes bombed IS targets like cars and houses that were surrounded by civilians.”
Jobs, medicine, food and diapers for his kids had long been scarce in the village, but with the onslaught of fighting, Ramadan decided it was time to leave in search of safety.
With a few clothes and basic essentials packed in two bags, Ramadan led his wife and young children away from their home on foot, moving silently to avoid detection as well as the deadly landmines that littered the outskirts of their village.
“I carried my disabled daughter and my wife held our one-year-old baby while Ahmed (10) and Huda (12) carried our heavy bags on their backs,” Ramadan said. Despite their efforts to move quickly and quietly, a sniper caught sight of the family and fired shots in their direction, fortunately missing them.
Two hours later, Ramadan and his family arrived at the army’s position after which they were taken to one of many temporary shelters to house Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) before being transferred to the Dibaga IDP camp. Seeing the men were separated from the women and children, Ramadan took one last moment to comfort and assure his wife that things would be fine.
“The women and children were taken in one vehicle and the men in another,” he recounted. “Before we got in, I had the chance to speak to my wife. I told her to look after the kids and that we would meet again in the camp.”
The family’s separation was hard, Ramadan explained, adding that he, his wife and children all caught various illnesses while housed in cramped facilities while waiting to be settled into tents.
“I got the flu for five days while my wife and kids suffered skin rashes,” he said. Through it all, he always managed to find his wife and reassure her that they would be fine. “I spoke to my wife every other day,” he said. “We would meet by the fence that separated us and I would ask her to tell me how our children were doing.”
It was seventeen days later that the family was finally reunited. Together again, they began the process of starting their new life and creating a routine.
“My daughter Huda and my son Ahmed went to school and were so happy because they were forced to abandon their studies for the two years we were under IS rule, and my younger children got the vaccinations they needed,” Ramadan said.
Now, months later and far from his home by the banks of the Tigris River, Ramadan works to support his family, keep a sense of normal life for his children and enjoy spending time all together as a family.