‘I am 35 and I can’t marry. Who would accept me? I have nothing’

New to the Parish: Hayder Jaafar, originally from Iraq, arrived in Ireland in 2018

Hayder Jaafar outside the Glenvera direct provision centre on Wellington Road in Cork city. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Hayder Jaafar outside the Glenvera direct provision centre on Wellington Road in Cork city. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

 

When Hayder Jaafar graduated from the American University in the Emirates with a first-class degree, in 2013, he felt very excited about the future. He planned to use his studies in media and mass communication to build a career in journalism in the United Arab Emirates, where he had lived from a young age.

Jaafar was 11 when his father decided to move his family from their home in Baghdad to the UAE, in the mid-1990s. His father had worked as a fitness coach within the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq and wanted a new start for his children.

“We stayed in the UAE until 2013, and people were always very nice and kind. But then they started to kick out a lot of people from the Shia [Muslim] religion, people from Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. They didn’t want to give us citizenship so they cancelled our visas.”

When I reached Baghdad I was broken. I was a stranger in Iraq after all that time. People had changed, behaviours had changed. It was total shock. I felt like I was going crazy

Jaafar says he discovered his papers would not be renewed shortly after receiving his final university results. “When they told me I was losing my visa I was in shock. I grew up in Dubai, all my friends were there, my whole life was there.”

He decided to move back to Iraq, a country he barely knew any more. “My parents cried when I left the Emirates in this way. When I reached Baghdad I was broken. I was a stranger in Iraq after all that time. People had changed, behaviours had changed. People laughed at my Emirates accent. It was total shock. I felt like I was going crazy.”

Jaafar started rebuilding his life and found a job as a journalist with an Iraqi newspaper. However, he quickly grew disillusioned with the country’s political leadership and started posting articles on social media calling for changes in government. He says he then received death threats.

“Those people told me if you don’t leave your job we will kill you. Many people were reading my articles, and my family said you need to leave Iraq immediately. So I went to Turkey and waited around five months, trying to cross the Aegean Sea to Greece.”

Jaafar’s plan was to travel to Ireland, where his parents had gone after their UAE visas were also cancelled. His father had previously visited the country and felt it was a safe place for the family to start over with their two youngest children. The older children, some of whom already had families of their own, moved to Turkey.

I was too old for family reunification to join my parents, but I wanted to get to Ireland. They needed me: I was the older child

“My sisters and brothers in Turkey, they didn’t know I was trying to cross the sea. They were afraid for me. I was too old for family reunification to join my parents, but I wanted to get to Ireland. They needed me: I was the older child.”

In 2016, Jaafar eventually made it to Greece, where he spent a few months in a refugee camp before travelling across mainland Europe, through Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. “Slovenia was the worst: they put the dogs on us there. I’ll never forget those days. They made us sleep outside on a farm, and it was so cold. Until now I can still feel that cold in my hands.”

Jaafar’s odyssey continued through Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and, finally, Norway, where he decided to apply for asylum. He hoped that once he secured his papers he could travel to Ireland to see his family, but the process took a long time, and his application was rejected. He says he eventually paid for a smuggler to get him back to Germany.

Jaafar understood that under the EU’s Dublin regulation it was very unlikely he would secure refugee status in another European country following the Norwegian rejection. But he hoped an exception would be made because his family were in Ireland.

“My focus this whole time was just to get to my family. But it was so hard. I was scared and cold, and some days I cried. I travelled from Germany to Italy illegally over the border and was shocked by what I saw. The refugees were living in the streets, and for weeks I slept on the beach.”

I sent so many emails asking that they move me to a centre closer to my family in Dublin. I told them my parents were very old, that’s why I came here. But they transferred me to Cork

Jaafar ended up finding accommodation in Italy with the support of the Catholic Caritas charity and eventually secured humanitarian leave to remain in the country. “Getting permission to stay in Italy meant nothing. I couldn’t work and had no money. I called my family and my father said travel to Germany and wait there.”

In November 2018 Jaafar’s family paid for a fake passport (a method often used by asylum seekers), and he travelled to Dublin, flying via Portugal. He applied for asylum for a third time and was sent to the Balseskin reception centre, in Finglas in Dublin, before being transferred to an emergency accommodation centre in Ardee, Co Louth. During this time he tried to see his family as much as he could.

“I sent so many emails asking that they move me to a centre closer to my family in Dublin. I told them my parents were very old, that’s why I came here. I didn’t come to Ireland for myself, I came to look after them and my brother and sister who are still teenagers. But they transferred me to Cork.”

When the pandemic hit, Jaafar was unable to see his loved ones in Dublin because of travel restrictions. He tried to keep busy by studying online courses and also wrote to Minister for Justice Helen McEntee with an appeal that she accept his application for leave to remain, so he could stay with his family.

Some people ask me, how have you not gone crazy after everything you’ve been through? But I still believe someday things will be good for me

“After spending so much time, money and effort to reach here to my family, it is impossible to go back to everything from the beginning,” he wrote in the letter. “I don’t feel safe in Italy and feel there is nothing there for me to do – no job, no family, not safe, no future in my case.”

During his time in Ireland, Jaafar has worked at Brown Thomas and as a chef in a hotel; he is now working for a security firm. In November he will have spent three years in direct provision.

“Some people ask me, how have you not gone crazy after everything you’ve been through? But I still believe someday things will be good for me. But I am 35 and I can’t marry. Who would accept me? I have nothing, I don’t have documents and I’m an asylum seeker. That’s hard. I just want to live my life here and I hope the Minister can understand my situation and help me to be with my family. I deserve that.”

We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past 10 years. To get involved, email newtotheparish@irishtimes.com or tweet @newtotheparish

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