Mariam has a Master’s degree in political geography and was a teacher in her home country of Iraq. “My parents were educated – my father was an engineer and my mother was a physio-therapist. They travelled to different countries to do training and they taught me to have a different opinion on traditional viewpoints.”
This perspective is was what Mariam thinks led to a difficult situation where people began to persecute her and even threaten her life. Her older sister told her, “Your life is finished here – you must go.” Mariam travelled to Turkey but her difficulties continued and she went to prison for eight days due to her VISA not being considered correct. “I was freed from prison but I couldn’t leave Turkey and I couldn’t return to Iraq. What was I going to do?”
She credits a police officer in Turkey who took her to the United Nations office where she applied for refugee status. The United Nations considered her a woman in danger. While the police told her to call at any time she felt in danger, life was not easy in Turkey. The money that her sister sent to her was stolen and she had no medication.
But Mariam was persistent and began to study Turkey and its history. She soon began to work as a tour guide for an Iraqi tourism company. After nine months of living in Turkey, she was told by the United Nations that she had been selected to move to Canada. There was an additional two months delay before she flew due to an eye infection that required treatment. The day she was set to fly, there was yet another delay when the Turkish government blocked her from flying and she was sent back to prison.
By this point, Mariam was in very poor health and in a wheelchair. “But I was very determined to come to Canada and kept calling my United Nations contact for help.”
Mariam eventually arrived to Canada on June 17, 2014 and by the time she arrived, “I was destroyed. I don’t even know how to describe my situation at this time and I don’t want to share it all. But I can say that Wesley staff took care of me and I stayed at the Wesley Reception House for two months until my health stabilized.”
“I have been working hard to start a new life, from the very beginning that I arrived.” Mariam walks independently with a white cane and is legally blind. But that didn’t stop her from pursuing more education. “I finished high school in English and hope to study next at Mohawk College. I try and look on the positive side of life and encourage other refugees to do the same – to build a new life for yourself and your family.
Mariam speaks honestly when she describes how difficult it is to leave your home country and start again, especially for adults who are in their forties and older. “It is very hard to get a job here, especially for refugees who were professionals in their home country.”
Despite these difficulties, Mariam is in awe when she talks about Canada giving refugees another chance in life and how in Canada you can interact with people from different cultures and countries. “I will always love my country Iraq but I love Canada too and am proud that I am now a Canadian citizen.”