"GOD RESCUED ME."

Jibril* fled Iraq and now lives in Finland.

God rescued me. He fled through Europe after experiencing unspeakable things in Iraq. He survived the journey, including soldiers in the woods in Serbia randomly shooting into the underbrush after dark, killing other refugees who were also hiding there.
I was a peaceful person, I didn’t make any fights with anyone. Then later, those in power took me and arrested me, and punished me because I was a Sunni. Yes, I respect the Iman Ali, but why must they force me to pray to him?
They don’t treat us like humans. There is no humanity at all.
They did horrible things to me, disgraceful things — they attacked me, they violated me, and they beat me. They kept me for three days, then released me, but told me, ‘You are not acceptable here. You need to leave Iraq, because Iraq is not yours.’
 Outside an army barracks converted into refugee accommodations. (February 2016)

Outside an army barracks converted into refugee accommodations. (February 2016)

I got married in 2006. We were without child for 7 years. We prayed to God for a child. God stayed with me.
We went to the doctors because it had been seven years and we still believed that God would do something. Then God told me, you have a child. Finally he gave us a baby girl.
She is the whole world for me. But now she asks for me every night.
My wife was pregnant and I didn’t have money. A Christian friend gave me money so I could escape. My wife left our home to go to her family region and stay in her family house.
 J. weeps as he shows us an image of his daughter back home. (February 2016)

J. weeps as he shows us an image of his daughter back home. (February 2016)

Then I left, I went to Turkey, twice I tried to cross the sea and twice I sank in the water. There were people sinking with me, I was listening to them scream all around me. There was no one, no one there to help us. The Turkish coastguard came to take us and send back to Iraq to die.
They told us, “If we catch you again we will send you back to your country.” But thank God, they arrested us just for one day and then released all of us.
I tried crossing the sea for a third time with no success. The fourth time, they started shooting us, but God rescued us. Finally, we reached Greece on the fifth time, hamdullah (praise be to God).
God saved us from death.
We went to Greece, to Athens, then from Greece to Macedonia. Then on to Serbia. In Serbia, we were in the forest at night and we could hear people coming towards us. People were crying and shouting, as if it were Judgment Day. The Iraqi and Syrians were saying, “I will give you everything, all that I possess, but can you leave me alone and keep me alive?”
The soldiers were really close to us in the forest, but they didn’t see us. God hid us from their sight.
 Driving through the woods outside of Helsinki (February 2016)

Driving through the woods outside of Helsinki (February 2016)

I am so thankful to God that he protected me through all of this that I could even reach Germany. I crossed Germany and Sweden. The people were really kind and helpful there. They even gave me money to get on a boat from Sweden to Finland — I am still in awe, who are these people? I want to know who they are. Then I came to Finland and I am so thankful that I am here.
[In Finland] the people of the church came to invite us to the church. I wanted to know, who are these people who are so loving like this? I have never known people like this, they are so kind.
My wife gave birth to a son in January 2016. I called him “Nour” which means light. Light of the world. Light of Jesus.
I have this hope that one day I will meet my family, that I will defend them, that I will be able to take care of them.”
 J. walks back to the home after our interview. (February 2016)

J. walks back to the home after our interview. (February 2016)

Jibril became a Christian as a result of God protecting him on his journey and experiencing the kindness of Christians in Finland. His wife, three-year-old daughter and newborn baby are still in Iraq. He is heartbroken to be away from them.
Finland changed the laws after he arrived in country, making it much more difficult for families to reunite. But he prays every day that his family will be able to join him one day.

*names changed to protect people’s privacy

Photos and story by Talitha Brauer

In December 2015 I received a call from documentary filmmaker Tamara Park, asking me to accompany her on a three week trek from north to south, starting in Finland and ending in Greece. We met and interviewed Syrian and Iraqi refugees who had fled their homes in hopes of beginning a new life in Europe.

This is part 3 of From North to South, a photo essay account of their stories.