To the people of Europe, from a refugee who seeks freedom for herself and her family
I introduce myself to you first, my name is Tiba Atheer Kallas. I am 14 years old. At the beginning of my letter, I would like to tell you my story and my dreams, and ask from the Polish people and the people of all of Europe, to judge and tell me, what crime have we committed so that my family and I deserve imprisonment?
As I told you, my name is Tiba, I am 14 years old, an Iraqi girl. We were living in Iraq amidst the sounds of explosions, gunshots, assassinations, and the deaths of innocent children. We, the children of Iraq, were deprived of all our rights. We were even deprived of breathing freely and without fear. We had no right to lead a normal life.
Like any Iraqi child, I loved my leisure time, because otherwise there was nothing more than going to school with the fear that I would never see my parents again. Because in Iraq, explosive devices, car bombs and assassinations had become very normal, even at the doors of schools.
When I was 8 years old, I was on my way to school. On that day, as we left after school hours, there was an explosion in front of the school door. Fortunately for me, that day I had not left with my two girlfriends. I came out late, and when I did, I found my two friends covered in blood, one of them disfigured by the explosion that had happened.
Even today, this scene does not leave me, it stays with me. It also caused in me a constant fear of school and the streets of my city. When I was at school, I hated it. Not because I was lazy! No, I’m a smart girl, but I was always afraid of death. As a child, I didn’t have anything like a normal life.
After some time, I got over the shock. But the streets in Iraq are frightening. We go around not knowing when our souls could be snatched.
From when I was a child, I never walked to school with my friends. My parents would drive me and my siblings to school out of fear of the Iraqi streets. They were unsafe and our lives were in danger.
We always begged my father to take us away from Iraq and never to return. We wanted to live our lives normally without fear. But my dad used to say that tomorrow will be better, that Iraq would eventually be safe. But we did not find safety.
The parties started chasing after my grandfather and my uncles because they were working with the American coalition forces. After these conflicts did not stop, my grandfather and uncles were forced to leave Iraq. Forced to leave us behind. I was deprived of my loving grandfather and my dear uncles because of these parties and their actions.
That wasn’t enough for the parties. After my grandfather and uncles left, they pursued my aunts. Even the women of my family were not spared their wrath. They followed my mother and father because we lived in my grandfather’s house. They burned my mother’s hand before our eyes, my siblings and I. My father was tortured in front of us. Many terrible things happened to us in Iraq.
At some point we moved to an industrial neighborhood full of bad smells and deadly car smoke. We did not see my father because of the threats. We met him once a week and sometimes less. We decided to leave Iraq after they found us there. They shot their guns at the house.
I don’t want to talk about how we felt when they attacked the house. My mother, my siblings, and I were alone at the house when they attacked it. We held each other and said “there it is, that’s the end!” We started saying goodbye to each other, hugging each other close so we would die together. Better than one of us waking up alone, mourning the loss of the others.
We decided to leave Iraq and travel to safety, to a beautiful future where we roam the streets freely without fear. We always hear about children’s rights in Europe, so we planned to travel to Belarus.
After four days of arriving there, we decided to go through the forest, to reach that place which should make us happy forever.
You will never understand the amount of fear and terror that my family and I faced as we traveled down that dark forest road. We were walking in complete darkness without any light.
My little siblings became lifeless bodies from the cold. They became just a body that breathes and tears up from fear. My sister Zainab and I pretended to be strong in order to support my parents so they would not have to worry about us as well.
But the shock was when the Belarusians caught us. They beat my father and the men who were with us and took our money and everything else from us, even our food and water. Then they pointed their weapons at my father so that he would not move, and they made their dogs chase me and my sister. We ran while crying and calling our father for help. But my father couldn’t move because of the army. We ran as the dog chased us, while they laughed and cursed us, until we got tired and fell to the ground. They did not have any mercy in their hearts. After they exhausted us with this torture, they told us to go to Poland.
After that, we continued walking for days until we reached the Polish border.
The Polish army did the same thing and told us to “Go back to where you came from!”.
We stayed on the border for a month in this situation. For a month, we were in freezing cold weather with nothing to heat us but a little fire. I cannot go through all the details because it’s still traumatic. When I think of it, I get a very weird and chilling feeling. In our last attempt, we were a group of five families with 16 children. Hands together, we supported one another.
We walked through the forest until we reached a checkpoint for the Polish army. I couldn’t believe it when the soldier told us: “Get in! I didn’t see you.” He pointed with his hand to the road, across the border, he said: “Go that way…”. We started walking with joy and we told ourselves the adventure was finally over. We were almost there and soon we could rest.” After reaching the very cold swamps, my father carried all the kids through the swamps one by one on his shoulders. We watched dad, who was tired, exhausted, his legs covered with blood, bear the pain in order to get us there faster.
I wouldn’t wish what we lived through in the forest upon anyone, it was very difficult and scary. But we had to cross it, because it’s impossible for us to go back to Iraq, as murder and torment would surely come back to haunt us. We continued to walk through the forest for almost 10 days.
For 10 days I cried when the night came. I was scared of the darkness and the sounds of the forest. But I pretended to be strong.
For four of those days, we didn’t have food. My father, along with two men and a woman from the group, walked for a long time to find us some water, but they couldn’t. We got exhausted and tired. They decided to surrender after the organization came to us with medical aid, food and drink. One day later, we turned ourselves in, in the presence of the media and an important person.
They took us somewhere, saying it was the immigration authority. We stayed there for eight days. My father told my siblings and me: “It’s just a matter of days before we start our beautiful future!”.
However, my siblings and I were soon disappointed. We were sentenced to 60 days in the camp. We were in shock. During this time, I began to doubt my parents. Were they lying to us? Where is this wonderful future they keep talking about? After my doubts, they convinced us for the third time, and we believed them. They said it’s only a short period and it would end.
They took us to what they would call “a guarded camp” but when I got there and I looked at it, I found it to be a prison. It looked nothing like a “refugee shelter.” The police and cameras are everywhere.
For me, this is where the real torment started. Everything I had lived through up until the camp could be put on one side of the scale, and everything that happened in the camp can be put on the other. They would be equivalent. I became scared of the police. Even when we were asleep in the morning, they came into the room to check that we were still in the bed, that we didn’t run away.
The sounds of the guard dogs in the camp terrify me. At night, the camp is scary. It reminds me of what happened in the Belarusian forest. The dog running after us… My dreams turned to nightmares that won’t leave me. Again I convince myself that it’s only a period and it will pass. That I am strong and I will make all my dreams come true.
I dreamed of having a bright and beautiful future, of having my name echo widely, and to serve and be part of a community. Ever since I was young, I dreamed of becoming a dentist, to play piano, and to learn to draw. I dreamed of getting braces because in Iraq this thing is expensive. To have rights in our country is impossible. I also dreamed of creating designs and innovating, but again and again I found the place where I lived was not suitable for human life. Everything is rotten, even the treatment towards us children. I sit and blame myself and my family for what has been done to us.
Problems have increased between the families on site. The shouting and wailing fills the air, and at these times I don’t know what will happen to me. The world and my surroundings become a black mist, and I don’t know what happens.
I don’t know what is happening until I wake up in my bed. I don’t understand anything except for my parents telling me that I lost consciousness. When I woke up, my entire body hurt and I could not walk. This state begins to haunt me. It happens whenever I hear loud sounds. My ears start ringing and I have more seizures. This thing happens to me several more times, and each time, all I receive is sleeping medications. I slept for a full day. There is no real medical care for me there, no tests, no diagnosis, no procedures.
On the day of 27.12, we got papers from the court. These papers were a shock for me and my family. What we received was another four months in the camp before we could get out. I became ever more afraid and worried, I felt pain in my head and tightness in my chest, and the seizures persisted. I decided that there is no escape from this life and that we will never see the light again, because we are criminals, not refugees.
I am confined to my room. I have neither energy nor appetite to eat or drink. I wanted to end my life.
There, the nurses don’t do anything for me, they tell me I am healthy and that I am faking.
I want to know why I have these seizures. Am I going to die or what? Will I die without achieving my dreams? Will I die in this place?
My sister Zeinab asked and begged the soldier to call an ambulance. One day later, I was moved to a hospital, and a day after that, I was transferred to a psychiatric hospital to get treatment.
27 days and I still refuse to eat. They give me a liquid solution to resist and live. And all I ask for is freedom for me and my family. Here is a summary of my story. These are my crimes.
Is it a crime to make my dreams come true? Do I deserve imprisonment?
I ask you for your judgment, having full trust in the European people being kind people that don’t accept cruelty.
Tiba Atheer Kallas
This letter was first published in Polish on February 9th 2022. Tiba and her family have since been released from detention on February 10th 2022.
English translation was first published by Mangal Media.
Illustration: Rawand Issa