My name is Haneen Khalili; I’m from Iraq. I’m 26 years old and I have a degree in journalism from the Media Faculty. I was a journalist in my country before I immigrated.
The Khalili family is known to be a religious one, originally from Najaf. But we live in Baghdad, and my father is slightly different to the rest of his family. He has somewhat of an open mind, in that he left us a little extra space in which to be free. There are certain expectations on me as a member of the Khalili family: I shouldn’t be a journalist, nor should I have relationships or be allowed to travel. I am instead supposed to marry and built a family of my own—like all girls are supposed to do. So, because my father had rebelled a little against these mores, I decided as a little girl that when I grew up, I would leave and go find a place where it was possible to be even more free. Well, the idea was there, but it wasn’t quite a decision yet.
As soon as I began working in the journalism field I went to the politics division as a news and segment editor, and eventually I was producing my own news segments and writing reports online and for different news agencies. I was subjected to harassment—as is of course typical for all journalists in Iraq—but this never stopped me; I tried not to lend the harassment any importance. In addition to my political work, I was involved in feminist activism, as part of a support network for battered women and women whose freedoms had been curtailed. The initial harassment came from relatives who admonished my father and told him he needed to set some limits and put a stop to my work. Then the harassment escalated, as my father’s coworkers at the university, part of a Shiite endowment, began pestering him directly there and threatening me. Things began feeling more oppressive, my freedoms were increasingly stifled, and so I decided to leave for Europe. I faced opposition from my uncles and family—even from my father. When I told them I’d go live with my aunt over there and that I wouldn’t be alone, their objections eased up a little. And so, I went to Europe. I moved between several countries: France, Italy, and Norway. Through I went in search of freedom, all that quick and sudden change was really difficult.
Then I arrived in Sweden. It’s an unfriendly country, but it’s still better than Iraq. We have long hours to spend in restaurants and other places. It’s a very functional state, but the people are cold. I’m unable to connect with them. I remember how everyone looked depressed on the metro. It was like they were all suffering from some kind of mental illness. Maybe I was the one with the problem. But I was unable to have any warm feeling toward them. I’d look at their faces and see only boredom accompanied by a scowl.
Meanwhile, I was offered a job opportunity at a new channel about to launch in Turkey, an Iraqi channel. It felt like the right choice. I thought I’d spend a year or two in Turkey, then I could get a Master’s degree there, and this would prepare me to live on my own. But soon I discovered that I wouldn’t be able to settle in Turkey and build a stable life there. It’s a beautiful place, the culture is very close to our Eastern one, the people are joyful, everything is vibrant, and so the environment really suits me. But I can’t settle here long term. We are here as expatriates on a one-year tourist visa, and it needs to be renewed on a yearly basis. But it’s possible at any point that they refuse to renew your tourist visa. I can’t go back to Baghdad, and anyway the coronavirus pandemic has shut down travel. Neither can my parents come here to me, so little by little I’ve begun preparing myself to go back to Europe. But it's a process that takes time, and I also need time to save some money from my job here in Turkey.
I have no problem with the social culture in Sweden, but it will be a little exhausting adapting to their work culture. I’m not used to spending most of my day at work. It’s all work and depression. Little by little I need to prepare myself to be able to handle it.
This is Haneen Khalili from Turkey, and this was my story.
This summarised transcript of Haneen's story was prepared by Omar Alshikh, edited by Monzer Hayek and translated by Leena Mounzer