Houda Al-Malek, a young refugee woman, tells the staggering story of her family's journey to Europe.


Since the death of my father, my mum has been restlessly struggling to continue with life, giving me and my brothers the motive to continue with our study. And when things deteriorated in Iraq, she decided to get Sajad out and bring him here so he would no longer feel inferior.

My mother took the risk and decided to leave Iraq. She told me she was ready to die in the sea, but the most important thing was that I take my brothers to the country I choose.
In November 2015, 15-year-old Sajad is pushed across uneven ground at a processing centre in the Serbian town of Preševo, on the border with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. © UNICEF/UN08739/Gilbertson VII Photo

We got on that inflatable boat along with so many other refugees, much more than what that boat could take. The number was unreasonably big. Thank God it didn’t explode. A small rock was enough to rip that boat and for all those people to die.
“The fear inside me was indescribable. I can’t
find the words to describe how I felt then.”

We were sitting on each other’s legs, and our legs got numb; and if we were to fall into the water, we wouldn’t never have been able to swim. My mother fell in the water and hurt her foot. Many sad things happened during that trip.

Sajad at a refugee processing centre in Vienna, Austria, where his family is applying for asylum. © UNICEF/UN08734/Gilbertson VII Photo

Throughout our journey, we saw that some countries only cared about getting the necessary numbers through. There were times when we had to buy four tickets to get on a train only to find there were no seats. Sajad had to sleep in the aisle, and we had to put luggage on top of him. We faced enormous difficulty then, but when we crossed to this country [Austria] things got a little bit better.
Houda talks with her brothers Sajad and Zein. © UNICEF/UN08729/Gilbertson VII Photo

Here there is security but back in Iraq there is no security. Iraq is full of bad things.

When we got here and finished all our paperwork and went to the police to give our information we were no longer scared, because that was a new start for us and we had to cope with our new life. We were asked about our names, age [and where we were from] in Basra. We felt that was the new start for us in this country.

My mum keeps saying that people here received us with empathy and, here, individuals have their own protected rights. So, hopefully, I will look after Sajad, and make sure that he finishes his study to become somebody.
Sajad and his mother, Fatima, visit Kunsthistorisches Museum (the Museum of Art History) in Vienna, their new home city. © UNICEF/UN08598/Gilbertson VII Photo
““Everything is beautiful here.
Everything … everything is beautiful.”
Houda, Sajad and their family walk down the street in Vienna. © UNICEF/UN08729/Gilbertson VII Photo
“I have no dream whatsoever.”
Certainly he will have a better life here … Of course he has the right to say he has no dream, because the future is still unknown for him, he doesn’t know what’s going to happen to him. He is still not that open-minded, but I believe he has a better chance here.

I and my brother [Zein] give Sajad the utmost support we can give … I would very much love to see him in a great position in society one day.
Sajad explores the streets of his new home, Vienna. © UNICEF/UN08606/Gilbertson VII Photo
“I'm thankful to God. Now I feel comfortable
as long as my family is well and comfortable.”
I always tell him that it would be better for him to have a good position in society than being a prisoner to his fears. And that he has to accept his disability and go on with his life … be thankful that he has a family that loves and supports him. He will be somebody one day but this will be through education and learning.

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