When two children and a young woman were murdered by armed opposition groups in her hometown, near Mosul, in Iraq, Akhlas Yuhana Sqt (36) saw no other option than to flee with her family, leaving everything they knew and owned behind. One year later, however, life seems more promising for the newly appointed centre leader of NRC’s first mobile community centre in Iraq.
“One of them was a little boy; he was only three years old. The other one was a young woman who was killed on her engagement day and the last one was my five year old cousin,” says Iraqi Christian, Akhlas. Her eyes seem distant as she recalls the day that changed their lives completely.
As a part of the Christian minority group in Iraq, Akhlas had lived a quiet life before the war broke out in 2014. She had a house in Al-Hamdaniya, with her husband and their six children, near the city of Mosul, surrounded by close friends and family. However, life was about to change dramatically. When armed opposition groups attacked Mosul, in June 2014, over half a million people fled their homes in fear for their lives. Among them were Akhlas and her family.
Akhlas’ family decided to flee east, towards the city of Erbil, which is the capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. They fled by car at midnight and spent twelve hours on the road, taking a route that would normally take an hour.
“It was absolute chaos on the streets, everyone was fleeing in an attempt to save their lives,” Akhlas explains.
After arriving safely in Erbil, she and her family spent the first ten months living in a big hall inside a building with 250 other families. In June 2015, the family was moved to the Christian camp, Ankawa 2, managed by the Assyrian Catholic Church.
Life in displacement has been hard on the family who has had to readjust to a whole new way of living. The children go to school, but find the new curriculum very different to what they are used to.
“Our situation now in no way resembles our lives before the war, but at least we have been given a proper caravan we can call home and not tents, like many other displaced people in Iraq. It is not the best situation, but perhaps it is a test from God,” Akhlas says.
NRC’s Akhlas Yuhana Sqt (36) had to flee for her life when the war broke out in her hometown last summer. Photo: NRC/Becky Bakr Abdulla
When the war broke out and Akhlas had to flee, she was a student at the university. She had to interrupt her studies and the rest of her life in Al-Hamdaniya. The crisis, however, did not prevent Akhlas from graduating.
“I decided to continue my studies and got accepted to a university here in Kurdistan. Last summer, I graduated as a nurse,” Akhlas exclaims and smiles proudly.
Today, she works as the centre leader of NRC’s mobile community centre in Iraq. The centre on wheels is meant to provide displaced men, women, boys and girls with a safe space, where they can learn a new skill, participate in different social activities, and connect with each other.
Today Akhlas works as the centre leader for NRC's first ever mobile community centre in Iraq. Photo: NRC/Becky Bakr Abdulla
“I am very happy to be a part of this project. For me, it feels familiar to be social and have a big network. We are very social and need a space that provides a sense of normality. Even a small gathering space, where we can be together, smile and recollect good memories from a life before the war, can bring peace to people’s minds,” Akhlas says.
Her positive attitude and strong will is highly appreciated by her NRC colleagues:
"We are very lucky to have Akhlas as a part of our team. She is very ambitious and highly motivated. Her positive attitude is infectious," says NRC's Gender-Based Violence Project Coordinator, Reem Shammout.
Author: Becky Bakr Abdulla