Story and photo: Steven Tagle for SolidarityNow.
Rajab, 21, lives in a single room in one of SolidarityNow accommodation structures for refugees in Athens, near Hashem and Nouri. His arms are thick from using his crutches. “My papers say I’m Syrian, but I was born in Iraq”. Half of his family lives in Iraq, half in Syria.
When he was nine years old, he lost both his legs.
He was riding in a tractor driven by his cousin, with his aunt, his cousin’s wife, and his cousin’s sister. He was sitting on the rim of the tractor tire. An American tank fired four shots at them.
“Three of the shots exploded near us. Big sounds. I didn’t hear the fourth shot. Dirt flew up. Hot diesel burned my chin. I don’t know what happened. I didn’t think; I was just afraid.”
The tractor was destroyed. The shot exploded under Rajab’s cousin, killing him. His aunt also died. His cousin’s wife lost one leg below the knee. His cousin’s sister lost two legs below the knee.
“People came to collect the bodies and thought I had died. They left me with the dead. But I waved my hand, and they found me and took me”.
The surgery lasted two hours. “I woke up before the surgery and saw my legs. When I woke up again, they were gone. ‘Where are my legs?’ I cried. ‘Where are my legs?’ To this moment, I’m still crying”. He stayed in the hospital for 27 days and then went home for three months. “Nobody helped me, not doctors, not Americans, nobody”. Three years later, four American soldiers came to Rajab’s house with a translator to say, “We are sorry.” They sat in the garden and spoke only with his father. Rajab never saw them again.
After the Americans bombed him, Rajab went to Syria to treat the pain in his legs. He stayed in Syria for two months, then the Red Cross took him to Rome to be fitted with prosthetics. “The Italian legs were so comfortable—I could sleep in them!”, Rajab said. He lived in Rome for four months with his uncle. He lived in Syria for a year, then returned to Iraq. “Every two months, the government gives me $1,100. Sometimes the money is enough, sometimes not”.
Because he was young when he received the prosthetics, he soon outgrew them. “The old legs started hurting me. They were too small. My skin stuck out over the prosthetic. There was blood”. Now he wears legs from Iraq. These legs are plastic with iron cores. The knee of the left leg is broken and does not lock. He must lock his right leg and then use it to stand. And there is no padding between the plastic and his skin, so the prosthetic digs in like a knife.
Because of the war, Rajab couldn’t go back to the Red Cross. He tried to go to Italy from Syria, but the trip was too expensive, so he chose to come to Greece instead. He traveled from Baghdad to Kurdistan then flew to Turkey. He sailed from Turkey to Leros, Greece on 30 June 2016. He spent three-and-a-half months in the camp, and it was very bad. There were 600 people living there, now maybe 350 to 400. The doctor at the camp said he did not need surgery and did not give him pain medication.
The UN connected him with SolidarityNow, and he lives in the accommodation structure in Athens since September 2016. A team of doctors came to the hotel a week ago, and showed him a video of a boy walking with prosthetic limbs. The doctors want to make a new pair of legs for him. They told him that they would do a simple surgery here in Greece, and then he could go to another country to do the major surgery. “I wish to go to America to fix my legs because the medicine there is good” Rajab said. “The Americans cut my legs, so I want them to make me new ones”.
But because of the EU-Turkey deal, it’s difficult for Rajab to move on to Italy. The Greek government told him, “Stay in Greece, and we will give you a passport and you can go to another country after five months.” A few days ago, he had an interview to begin the asylum process. Because he has a Syrian passport, the process will go quickly. He won’t have a problem unless the Greek government sends him back to Turkey without a passport. “I’ll stay here for five more months to wait until I can leave—I have no choice”.
“Two days before I left Syria, I met Gazia in person. I told my father, ‘This is my love. Take care of her’”.
After he fixes his leg, he wants to go back to Iraq. “When I go back to Iraq, I will marry, buy a house, start a family.” He’s been in a relationship with his girlfriend Gazia for two years. Her family agreed to the marriage, but he can’t marry if he doesn’t fix his leg.
*The Hosting Scheme Project Home for Hope is implemented by SolidarityNow with the support of UNHCR GREECE and EU funding.