segunda-feira, abril 15, 2024

After had been separated in a boat, refugee couple meet again almost 2 years later

MigraMundo has been, for 5 months, with Shang Sardar Magded, who was into prison and faced three judgements to find her husband again, in Strasbourg

By Victória Brotto
From Strasbourg, France
Portuguese version – click here

There was one little window on the top of a church, in the centre of a French city called Strasburg. From there, we could see the other houses around – and the moon. “Have you ever came up to here to see the view, Shang? It is wonderful!” “No. Never, I am a bit afraid of going to the window at night”, said Shang to the two new friends visiting her new little room.

It was night time in Strasbourg, an Automn night, a season that had been difficult for Shang Sardar Magded, 21 years old, Kurdish, born in the countryside around Erbil, the capital city of Kurdistan, an independent region on the North of Iraq.

After decades of war with Iraq, including a year (1986) of an appalling genocide that has aniquilated 200,000 Kurdish people, the Kurdistan has won its autonomy from the Iraq’s government after the fall of the Saddam Hussein’s regime, in 2003.

Four thousand km distant from Kurdistan, Shang saw herself alone in her little room made by wood , situated in one of the richest city of France. In that night, she had bought, with the money that she had received from the French government, a chocolate bar, some sweet biscuits and some juice. Shang was having her daily meals at the house of the pastor of that church.

Shang in Turkey during her journey to Europe.
Photo: personal archive

In the other side of the room, we could see lots of children christian books and other two beds that were used for having other people in case of emergency. On the roof, a big window, through where a big blue dark sky could be seen full of stars.

“Looking at the sky makes me sad, because I don’t know where my husband is now. Could you ask God to give my husband back to me? I want my husband”, said Shang closing her eyes. With a sound voice, profoundly sad, she whispered a pray: “God, bring Hemn back!” Hemn is the way by which Shang and her family call her husband Hemu Ismael Mohammed, 32 years of age.

There had passed almost two years since Shang had seen her husband for the last time and four months that she hasn’t got any news from him. The couple has scaped from Kurdistan at 29th of January of 2016 under life threaths after Mohammed had helped some christian refugees who had scaped from the ISIS persecution in Mossul, Iraq. “We made a humanitarian help group of 10 families to provide food and some clothes for them”, said Shang. The ISIS persecution towards Christian has began in 2014 when the Islamic radical group had taken Mossul until 2016, when they lost the control of the city because of the bombs and attacks of the United States over the region. In 2003, the Christian population in Mossul were between 1,5million and 2 millions, nowadays there is just 200,000 christians.

One day, Mohammed and Shang has began to receive phone messages with threats. But decision of fleeing from Kurdistan was made when a group has attacked Mohammed with a wood stick on his head and when they broke Shang’s nose.

Some weeks after, they were taking a flight from Erbil to Istambul, capital city of Turkey, for the price of US$700. There, they stayed for ten days in a small hotel until they have known a “máfia” men, in the centre. “He said to us that he could get us up to Europe by boat”, said Shang. “It is easy to find this kind of offer in Turkey. These type of people are everywhere. They are sit on the public squares with a gun in one hand and with another hand they sell to you a boat ticket to Greece or Italy.”

For around US$ 5,000, the couple bought two boat tickets to Greece, a 3-hour-trip inside of a boat of 7 metres and with 35 people inside. “It was midnight and it was very cold. After we had made a long trip by bus, we arrived on a beach with lots of women, men, mothers with babies, handicaps and also I remember of seeing one guy with some mental problem.” When they were all boarding, the staff separated men from women. “Men first and women after”, they said to us. When all the men had got inside, including Hemn, the police arrived. And the boat driver left immediately the place with the boat and with all the men inside. By the Turkish law, these boats are seen as illegal immigration, and if one of the people who drive the boat or sell the tickets are got, they go into prison for their entire life.

The police got Shang and all the women with her and put them into prison. Shang stayed there for three days. In the meantime, she called a friend that she knew that was living in Istambul to help her. “I had lived with her for a year. I made the wash up, the laundry, the cooking, etc”, said Shang, who was just waiting for her husband’s papers of asylum get ready in Europe.

Shang and Hemm before leaving home to Turkey.
Photo: personal archive

In Greece, Mohammed’s boat was getting the shore of Mytillène island. “Before the arrival, I saw people on the beach inside of white tents waiting for us, there were humanitarian organizations who rescues boats like ours on the sea”, said Mohammed. “I arrived telling straight away my case and saying that I need to take my wife in Turley, that she has been left behind.”

“We cannot do anything, sir. Turkey is not part of the European terroritory”, an agent of the International Organization for Migration said to Mohammed. “But as soon as your wife get in Europe, she will be taken to the place where you will be”, they assured. “It is the law of not separating families, do you know?”, Mohammed explains to MigraMundo.

Shang’s husband has stayed in the greek island for five months waiting for any country in Europe accept him as a asylum seeker. “They gave me a document which I signed saying that I agree to stay in any country that accept my case as asylum seeker.” “I was waiting to go to Germany or England…”. Five months after, Mohammed received the information that he was accepted by the French government.

Mohammed arrived in Lille, north of France, one day after. He was taken to a dormitory in a small city nearby. And then he stayed there for other 8 months, waiting for his papers. “I remember when the women from this association who was given us a place to sleep was very racist. She didn’t like us”, said Hemn. “When we complain that it was cold, she said that or we stayed there or we could go to sleep on the streets.”

Meanwhilhe, he and Shang were talking on Facebook, Whatsapp, etc – and Mohammed always sending his documents to Shang. “In case of emergency”, he adds.

After receiving his asylum papers, Mohammed was informed that there was no place anymore for him to stay. “Where I was going? I had no ideia. I knew nobody, I have never been in France before. I decided to call up Red Cross on Facebook. I sent a message to them and, after some days, a woman named Sarah answered me, saying that she could help me. She was working in Calais Camp.

Mohammed went to Calais. “There was very dirty, very terrible”, he adds, with distant eyes, but he ready takes back his story and speaks before the next question of the journalist. “Well, after a while, Sarah said to me that she had an answer of someone who was able to help me, his name was Françoise* and he was a pastor in Strasbourg, a city close to the border with Germany.”

In the same afternoon, Shang’s husband was arriving in Strasbourg.“What pastor Antoine made for me I would never be able to be thankful enough. He helped me in the most difficult time of my life”, said Mohammed in tears.

“You know, it is not everybody who does that for other person, for a stranger. He is a special men, a kind and generous man. I do not call her pastor, for me, he is part of my family now. Do you know how I call him? My uncle! For me, he is like my uncle”, explains Mohammed after had highlighted the importance of the family for the Kurdish society.

Hemn stayed for a few days in the same room where Shang would come and be hosted as well by pastor Antoine few months after. And it was there where MigraMundo has met Shang for the first time. It was the “emergency room” of that church.

Hemm during a stay in Greece.
Photo: personal archive

As soon as Mohammed got a appartament to stay, permanently, he thought straight away to tell Shang that the things would be easier for her. Now, with the 600 euros monthly that Mohammed was receiving from the government, he could finally rent a small studio. But suddenly, Shang stopped to answer Mohammed’s messages. “She disapeared. I was desperated”, said Mohammed.

Shang was out of track because she had figured out a way to go to France and to meet Hemn again. She has heard a man saying that he could help anyone to go to France by plane, but the payment needed to be made in gold. Shang went to this man and gave to him the gold that she had from her wedding. “He took me to a house with 15 other women, where I have lived for 3 months. I shared the room with six women”, Shang told us. “It was terrible. I do not like to remember this time, I really don’t”, she adds. The food, clean clothes were brought by the man who sold the trip to Europe. “One day, two men broke in…”, she said changing the tone of her voice. “They wanted to sleep with us…”.

“They hit us and one of them put a knife inside of my arms”, she said showing the scarf in his left arm. “After one of us has called to the man who was kind of responsible for us, he came with other guys and put them out.”

Shang, after months of waiting, finally was called. “Today you are going to France”, the man said. “He took me by car with other women until Istambul Airport. He put me inside of a plane and he said to me: “Keep your mouth shut!”. As I was very tired I felt sleepy and when I woke up, he was not there, he had gone!”

She tells: “I started to cry because I thought that he had gone with all my money, and that I was back to Turkey, that he had deceived me and I was with nothing again.” And then one of the passengers asked Shang if she was ok. “I asked her where we were and she said that we were landing in Paris!”, she said. “I couldn’t believe!”

When Shang landed in Paris, Mohammed, without any news of her, has decided to go after his wife. He locked the flat and went to Greece, by bus. When he arrived there, two days later, he goes to the police station asking for Shang, nobody knows, nobody saw. But the police didn’t believe in Mohammed’s paper when he showed them, and they put him into prison, where he stayed for one month.

Shang, in Charles de Gaulle Airport, in Paris, pass by the imigration control in a complete broken emotional condition and, as she has not passport or any other document, they put her into prison, name Z.A.P.I – a nearby prison made to emprisioned people without travelling documents. “They asked me my name and I lied, I said the first name that came into my mind. I could not leave them send me back to Turkey.”

She stayed one month in Z.A.P, where she shared her cell with other two women. “I told my history and the history of my husband to the Kurdish tradutor of Red Cross who was there to help us with translation. He helped me a lot, I will never forget him!”, said Shang, who asked some help to her translator to try to find Hemn.

Some weeks after, he said to me that the Hemn’s situation has changed, he had got his asylum and the address in his profile was the address of a pastor, in Strasbourg, called Françoise.

After she knew that, she was called for her last judgement – she had faced other two. “In the third time, the judge was a bit crazy”, she said laughing. “She came in with an electronic cigarette and in her table there were chocolate bars and some sweeties. When I saw it, I said to myself: well, this woman is crazy and she will never let me go.”

The judge started, so, with questions. “You said that when you go out, you will go after your husband. But how? Do not you know that France is not one street, two streets, it is an entire country? How could you go out and simply “find your husband?”, she asked Shang.

“If I let you go, where are you going?”, she added another question straight forward to Shang. Immediately, Shang thought in the pastor’s name and address that she has seen in her husband’s documents. “I am going to this pastor”, she said. The judge then looked to Shang, asked someone to verify the authenticy of this address and to call this pastor to see if she knew Shang.

After all checked, the judge looked to Shang and said: “I am going to make my humanitarian action of the day, I am going to let you go.”

Straight after, the prosecutor women started to say to the judge that it was all lies, that Shang had no husband. “I started to cry when I listened to that”, said Shang to MigraMundo. “I asked this bad woman: ‘why are you saying these things? Why are you doing this?’”.

After that, Shang said to the judge: “I have the right to stay with my husband!”

Then, the judge hit his hammer on the table and said: “STOP!”

At 23h55, Shang was into the last train Paris-Strasbourg. Pastor Françoise and his wife were waiting for Shang in the train station at 5h35 in the morning. “I will never forget what pastor Antoine and his wife made for me, that they were waiting for me early in the morning. I will never forget.”

Four days after Shang’s arrival in Strasbourg, MigraMundo met her for the first time. Shang was in her room, in the same room where her husband was months ago. But now, Mohammed was very far away from France, from Strasbourg. He was in Greece and had just got out of the prison. “They checked my situation and saw that I was telling the truth”, he said. Still with no news of Shang, he decided to go to Italy to look for her. “I thought that Shang could be there.” He goes, then, up to Italy on foot, what takes him nearly one week of walking.

When Mohammed gets in Bari, he starts to look for Shang questioning in every police station and organization. And then, his phone rings: “Hemn, Shang is in Strasbourg! Where are you?!”, said the voice of his brother on the phone.

“What? Shang in Strasbourg?!?”, he screamed. Mohammed was already very skinny, with a long bear, one week without shower, some hours with no food. “I didn’t knew what to think of. I was so tired that when I heard that my wife was at home my heart exploded inside of me, everything exploded inside of me: tears, tiredness, happiness. Everything.”, he says.

Shang was having lunch at the pastor’s house when she received a message on her phone from the brother of Hemn. “We got contact with Hemn!! He is going back to Strasbourg!!”. “When I saw that, my heart exploded”, said Shang. “I tried as crazy to contact Hemn’s brother to check that, after I got it, he told me that Hemn was in Italy looking for me!”

One year and seven months has passed after the separation in Turkey, and then, now, in Strasbourg, husband and wife would meet again. MigraMundo was there when they met – both and pastor as well. MigraMundo was waiting in the Pastor’s living room when Shang opened the door embracing a skinny full of bear –man. “Nice to meet you, Mohammed”, said Hemn, giving his right hand. His eyes were full of life and joy.

“Do you still want to talk?”, asked Shang to MigraMundo. “We can, of course, but after! After! Because now I want to stay with my husband”, she said with a huge smile and don’t give a chance to Mohammed to move as strong she was hugging him.

Hemm and Shang together again, after almost 2 yeras separated.
Photo: personal archive

“Pastor, thank very much, what you did for us is something that I will not be able to give you back”, said Mohammed, with tears in his face. “God blesses you both, Hemn. It is a joy to see you together… finally all this is over!”, said Françoise*.

After hugs, prays and words, Françoise closed the door, looked to MigraMundo and said: “It is incredible what God does, isn’t it?”.

During February, MigraMundo was in Shang and Mohammed’s house for an interview and also for a dinner – a “traditional Kurdish dinner”. Shang was washing the carrots and cucumbers and also eating lemon with salt while she was telling her story. Today, Shang is waiting for a baby boy, she is 5 month-pregnant. The name of the little boy has not been decided yet, but they want a name that could be understood both in French and in Kurdish.

MigraMundo asked if they were going to tell their “migration story” to their son. “Of course!”, they said, together. “It is what we are, our story and how we got here. And our son will know what we are and for what we have been passed through!”, said Shang, at home, with her husband, washing carrots and eating lemon with salt.

“I say to Shang that it is not normal to eat so many lemons as she eats!”, said Hemns laughing, bringing Shang into laughs, as well. Their way of laughing was easy, light as they never had passed by prisons, strange countries, oceans and judgements to be there, simply washing some carrots and discussing about lemons.

*Françoise is a pseudonym. We have omitted the real name for a pastor’s request


  1. La Cultura de Xiajiadian floreció antes que la dinastía Shang y se sitúa entre el fin de la Era del Neolítico y el comienzo de la Edad de Bronce en la civilización oriental.

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