Firaj Alwaka has the distinction of being perhaps the only recognised Iraqi refugee in Nepal. "I suffered this fate because I couldn't bear the brutality and heinous atrocities in my country anymore," says the 29-year-old. He arrived in Kathmandu on 25 July 2000 after leaving Iraq through Jordon. His final destination was New Zealand through Kathmandu and Hong Kong-a deliberately circuitous route to elude Saddam Hussain's secret agents. Forced to leave after his life was threatened for protesting against Saddam's regime, Alwaka was sent back to Kathmandu by security officials in Hong Kong. Then 9/11 happened, changing Western perceptions about Muslims. Unfortunately, it also affected Nepal's perception of Alwaka and he was arrested. After being jailed for four months, he was finally freed and accorded refugee status by the UNHCR.
He is learning Nepali and English, although the meagre Rs 3,700 that he receives from the commission doesn't meet his expenses. More than half is spent on rent alone. The US-led war on Iraq had Alwaka worried, "Imagine my condition, living in a foreign country as a refugee with no contact with loved ones caught in the middle of a war." He adds that he was "very, very happy" when Saddam was finally caught. Now all he wants is to return home. (Nepalnews.com)