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“We have no idea what’s around the corner”


When the Islamic State group captured his hometown in 2014, Khalil fled with his family to Kirkuk, where he now lives with his wife and children in grinding poverty. Over the last few weeks, Handicap International has been providing him with psychosocial support, along with other kinds of assistance.

Khalil and his family.

Khalil and his family. | © E. Fourt / Handicap International

The brick room where Khalil and his family have taken refuge is bitterly cold. The floor is scattered with mattresses and a small sofa. There is no natural light. Despite his spartan surroundings, Khalil welcomes Handicap International’s team inside, with a smile. Yaser, psychosocial worker, starts by asking about his health. “I’m so worried,” he says. “I have no idea what’s around the corner. It terrifies me.” For the last couple of weeks, Khalil and his family have been receiving threats. Some people wants the family to leave. “It’s insane,” says Laymouna, his wife. “The people who are threatening us treat us like terrorists, but we fled the terrorists: that’s exactly why we came here.”

Yaser listens to Khalil and Laymouna and tries to reassure them. The psychosocial worker has been monitoring Khalil for several weeks. He knows how distressed he is. “He was really distant at first. He didn’t say much or go out. He didn’t have any friends and was really depressed because he couldn’t work. He’s on the mend now, but the situation is really unstable and because of these threats, he’s finding it hard to stay positive. He really needs our help.” Khalil smiles at Yaser and adds: “Handicap International was one of the few organisations that offered to help me, in two years. I’m so grateful their team knocked on my door. Their visits help me get things off my chest. They make sure I stay positive and look ahead.”

Today, Khalil is worried about his 15-year-old son, Mohammad. The teenager doesn’t listen to him and challenges his authority. “He doesn’t how much trouble we’re in,” explains Khalil. Laymouna, his wife, adds: “When he goes to the café late at night with his friends, I worry that he won’t come back, or that something is going to happen to him and cause more problems for us. Because we’ve been displaced, life is totally different, but he’s still too young to understand that.” Huda, psychosocial worker, suggests family sessions to Laymouna and Khalil, so that everyone can talk through their feelings. Mohammad, seated next to his father, agrees to join in. “By getting them to talk, we can help them understand each other better,” explains Huda, who plans to organise a group session on her next visit. 

Handicap International’s team is doing everything it can to help Khalil and his family. “We contacted other organisations for financial assistance to make their lives more comfortable,” explains Yaser. “We also got in touch with the health authorities, because Khalil has diabetes and needs proper treatment,” he adds.

The psychosocial worker, who has also been displaced, understands what Khalil is going through. “I’m in the same situation so I understand what’s going through his mind. We do what we can to help him, but what he probably doesn’t realise is that he helps me too, because our chats make me think a lot. Khalil has got real staying power, he is fighting the odds, and that’s something his son can be proud of.”

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