He is a 22 year old Kurdish Iraqi.
When I asked him what he did back in Iraq, (did he study? Did he work?) he told me that he did nothing. His father was killed in the Iraq / Iran war by what Ismail described as terrorists, and his family received compensation from the Iraqi government for his death, so Ismail lived off this money.
He told me that he travelled with this money, visiting friends, and loving every minute of his young life. Whilst enjoying his youth, he met a beautiful girl…the daughter of a Iraqi civil servant, serving the president Fuad Masum. They fell in love, but her father disapproved of his daughter’s relationship with Kurdish Ismail, and commanded the termination of the relationship.
The pair, young and in love, continued to see each other in secrecy. Until, that is, the capture of Ismail by government forces…
Appalled, I asked him whether he was held in jail. He quietly replied that no, they did not in-prison him; instead they took him to an abandoned house. Here they tied him up, and asked whether he would continue seeing the girl he loved.
If he had said no, he said he wondered if they would have left him alone. But, he daringly proclaimed that yes, he would. He loved her.
Lifting his t-shirt, he showed me the wounds where his captors proceeded to shoot him in his back, then his leg, then his foot. I was astounded that he could walk; his soft limp not accurately portraying the trauma his body had withstood.
Upon his release, the forces dumped him in front of a hospital, and informed him that he had one month to leave Iraq; else he would be killed.
After recovering in hospital for a fortnight, Ismail flew to Turkey, where he had to rest again for another fortnight before embarking on the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean.
Unfortunately, here, Ismail’s story reflects innumerable accounts of refugees’ journeys from Turkey to Greece, and the onwards journey across Europe.
Overcrowding in Greece.
Racism in Albania.
Arrests in Hungary.
In Italy, Ismail tells me of the abruptness of the police, whereby the forces were eager to move the refugee population, and swiftly provided him with a ticket to France. And here I found him, residing in Dunkirk, where he has been for the past 7 months, in squalid conditions.
Contrary to popular publication, he is not trying to go to England, but is a refugee seeking asylum in France. Ismail has been living in this camp whilst his asylum papers are processed. Unable to work until his claim has been assessed, he has been living with other Iraqis in the camp, who share comparable stories of persecution.
When I asked him how he will choose to live his new life in comparison to his life in Iraq, he replied that his youth is over, and he will work hard once he is able to, out of sheer gratitude of acceptance of his asylum claim and this second chance of a life.
He has little contact with his mother still in Iraq, and is forbidden from contacting his girlfriend. He informed me that he wants nothing more than to tell her that he’s okay, and he is alive, but he knows the message will not reach her, and fears the consequences if he tries.
Thank you to Brittany Bee Pummell for documenting Ismail’s story, and Craig Bingham for this photograph