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Muammar, who is from Iraq, was a dentist in his country. He has witnessed many wars, including the civil war. He is currently a student in the ESL program at Sheridan College.

We interviewed Muammar, who told us about the struggles he has had to overcome and his journey to help his mother through terminal brain cancer.

Let me start with the day I lost my father in the war in 1982. I was six years old when somebody came to our house and told us the news of my father’s passing. Everybody in the house started to cry and was very sad. We were six children - three girls and three boys. My mother was young, she was thirty-two. Suddenly, she became the only one responsible for taking care of us.

Then, the Gulf War started with Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Iraqis faced a severe food crisis during this period, and things were very difficult for my family. This situation continued from 1990 to 2003, when the United States occupied Iraq. The US destroyed the Iraqi army, the police, the security system in Iraq, everything. Now that the borders were open, many terrorists came to Iraq, which triggered conflict between all the people.

In 2005, I decided to leave Iraq. I wanted to go to Sweden, but I had to save for the $15,000 required. The situation in Iraq was worsening, and hundreds of people were dying every day.

One month after I’d paid the money and was preparing the immigration papers, I received a call from my older sister. She told me our mother was not feeling well, but she did not know was the problem was. Those days, the medical facilities were so limited, and hospitals in Iraq did not even have light bulbs.

Eventually, my mother was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. This was a very-very sad day for me. It was 2007, and all the time from my dad’s passing in 1982, my mom had been both a mother and father to us.

Thereupon, I gave up going to Sweden. There was no treatment available in Iraq, so I took my mother to Jordan, where her treatment began. She started chemotherapy but did not know she had cancer. I covered the cost of the treatment with the money I had saved up to go to Sweden.

At some point, somebody told me to take my mother to the UN headquarters in Amman City, the capital of Jordan. We went there and explained our situation. The UN doctors said that my mother’s condition was hopeless: the cancer was stage four, and she had only six months to live.

In the end, my mother had to leave Jordan and return to Iraq because of our financial situation.

Meanwhile, Sweden had stopped accepting Iraqi asylum seekers. I found out that Ireland was still accepting refugees, so I decided to apply.

One day, I received a call from the UN: “Can we talk with Mrs. Salwa?”

“She’s not here, she went back to Iraq,” I replied.

“Who are you?”

“I am her son.”

“We decided to cover the entire cost of her treatment,” the UN person said.

“But you told me you don’t accept cases like hers.”

“I don’t know, the head office has agreed to treat your mother.”

This call came just as I had just completed all the paperwork to travel to Ireland. So again, I canceled my travel plans. However, after my mother received treatment for one month, the UN stopped all the support because of financial reasons. For the treatment to continue, we needed to apply for asylum in the United States. We did that, and within one month, we received the right for free settlement. We settled in Salt Lake City, Utah, where my mother’s treatment began, but after a few months, the cancer took over her body. The doctors told us she only had one month to live. She was only fifty-seven years old.

She knew she didn’t have long, and she told me she wanted to die in Iraq and see my brothers and sisters one last time. I took her back, after eighteen months in the US. We got back to Iraq, and after fifty-five days, my mom passed away.

Since Muammar returned to Iraq at his mother’s request, the US did not accept him as a refugee again. Muammar later married and had two children. In 2021, when ISIS occupied half of Iraq, he decided to leave the country again. First, he and his family went to Jordan. From there, they applied for asylum to Canada. They came to Canada in 2017 and started to lead a peaceful life here.

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stories of home, memories, turning points

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Everything For My Mother