What One Woman Brought With Her When She Fled Iraq

This story is part of a Refinery29 series that explores the women behind the headlines of the Syrian refugee crisis. Read the full multimedia feature, Behind the Headlines: Daughters of Paradise, here. More coverage on the human faces of the world's refugee crisis can be found here. Filmmaker Tarek Turkey contributed reporting from Kilis, Turkey. This story draws on interviews conducted in person in Turkey.

Dunia Abd El Rahman Jumaa fled Iraq on a Sunday, leaving her house and almost all her belongings behind. One of the few things she did bring when she was forced to abandon her home in Baghdad in 2014, just days after Islamic State militants seized the northern Iraq city of Mosul, was a pillow shaped like a strawberry. Like the watch and the cell phone and the bracelet she packed for a harrowing 12-hour drive to Turkey, the pillow had been a gift. “I like the sentimental things,” she said. Even before ISIS gained control of her community, Jumaa and her three daughters faced hardship. She left her husband, an alcoholic who let his extremist brother into their home. The brother-in-law tried to force her youngest daughter to marry an al-Qaida leader in Iraq. “When I finally crossed the border from Iraq into Turkey, I was finally able to breathe,” she said. “I felt safe.” Now, living in Turkey, she enjoys simple pleasures like going for a jog on her own — something she couldn’t do as a divorced woman in Iraq. “In Iraq, the mindset does not give you the freedom to practice your basic rights. When I look at how things are in Turkey, basic things…it saddens me and I think, ‘Why is my country so different?’” These days, Jumaa doesn’t ask for much. She says she wants “a small house with a balcony and plants, and a small car to go to work and back,” and, most important, to see her daughter have the freedom to go out with friends and finish her studies. “All this is not possible in Iraq,” she said. “This is what I wish for, God willing.”

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