Ahmed Ali talks about his escape from Iraq

The photo shows demonstrators in front of the former Turkish restaurant in Baghdad's Tahrir Square, which became a symbol of resistance in Iraq's October Revolution. Photo: Mondalawy, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


My name is Ahmed Ali and I was born in 1991 in the Basra governorate in the south of Iraq. My father was a farmer who grew grain and also sold dates from the palm trees on the farm as well as cows and sheep.

I have a degree in physics from the University of Basra. I also had a men's clothing shop from 2010 to 2019. Before I opened the shop, I worked as a construction worker for two years, building muqarnas, which is a special style of Islamic architecture, with purple-coloured stones in the streets. I earned enough to open the shop. I went to university in the mornings and worked in my shop in the afternoons.

My studies took a long time because I couldn't study that much and I always came home very late because I was tired from working in the shop. So I went to bed and only studied for the exams.

The disaster began with the IS invasion of Iraq. So-called popular mobilisation units were formed and we all stood by them and supported them. But after the end of the ISIS war, the politicians took advantage of these forces and created armed militias outside the control of the state authorities. These militias obeyed only their leaders, and their loyalty belonged to Iran. The name of these forces was also used to participate in the elections. And they won because the people loved these forces, but they quickly turned against the people when we demonstrated against the politicians. They used the militias against us and killed us, some by assassinations, others by storming the demonstration sites and shooting indiscriminately.

I was a civil and political activist and had many supporters in Basra governorate and all over Iraq. Civil activism started on 25 October 2019, when the entire Iraqi population took to the streets to demand their rights and change the miserable political situation in the country. On that day, the Iraqi government repressed the citizens with tear gas and gunfire, and many civilians who participated in these demonstrations were killed and injured. I then posted on my personal Instagram account to mobilise the students and hold a large demonstration at the university as I was still enrolled there. On 28 October 2019, many students demonstrated with me at the University of Basra against the oppression of defenceless citizens, demanding their human rights and calling for an end to the killings.

From then on, my name became better known and the students listened to me, so I was able to expand the demonstrations into a general strike at the university, which was supported by all the students. I formed a committee to lead the strike. It consisted of 50 students from all departments and faculties of the university, from 22 institutes in total. Every day we went to the university from 9am to 12pm to demonstrate, and I collected donations from students for needy families or took some of them to the demonstrators' tents in the central square in Basra, where we organised a sit-in.

During my time as a leader and organiser of demonstrations at the university, I was offered a job three times, which I turned down each time.

The first time, I was offered a security job at the university's presidency by the university's security director, who was a member of the militia. He told me to cooperate with them and spread their message to the Popular Mobilisation Forces and support them through social media, then he would give me a job and a leadership position at the university.

The second time, the deputy governor of Basra, who had founded a party together with the governor, offered me to join this party and represent the student group. I declined because they were militias and their loyalty was not to my country, Iraq, but the party was already organised. They were the winners of the seats in Basra governorate.

The third time, a member of the Iraqi parliament offered me to join them and work for the Popular Mobilisation Forces and support them. I refused the offer because I am a true Iraqi who wants to change this corrupt political class and not join them and help them at the expense of the blood of my friends and the votes of the poor who trusted me and supported me.

I demonstrated against them because their loyalty is not to Iraq but to Iran, and besides, they are thieves and murderers and criminals who kill those who reject them. They want neither freedom nor democracy. They rule us by force of arms.

We demonstrated in favour of eliminating the militias, taking away their weapons and supporting the Iraqi police and the Iraqi army to ensure security in Iraq, but they illegally killed our people.

I protested against the political leaders and against the clerics who made political decisions. Meanwhile, I received many threats on my mobile phone, but I did not hesitate and was not afraid because I was the leader of these demonstrations at the university and the students all trusted me a lot, so I did not want to disappoint them. On 19/11/2019, I was at the university in the morning, then I went to the other sit-in place in Basra governorate, brought them the donations for the needy and returned to my house at 10pm. On the way back, I had to change buses in an area called Garma Ali.

A motorbike came towards me with two people on it and one of them got off. He had a gun in his hand. He called me by name. When I turned round to face him, he fired seven bullets from his gun, three of which hit me. I was hit in the right leg, in the knee area, the bone in the thigh of my left leg was broken and shattered, and the third bullet went into the pelvic area. I then had to undergo two operations. Now I have an artificial bone and platinum in my left thigh.

I didn't leave Iraq after this happened to me, but I continued on the path and formed groups on Telegram, and I gave instructions to the students via social media, and they listened and implemented what I said.

The student strike continued for six months until the coronavirus came to Iraq in March 2020. After that, the students could no longer demonstrate to protect themselves and their families from contracting the virus. At that time, face-to-face teaching at the university was also switched to an online e-learning system. I used it to take the exam, passed it and received my bachelor's degree in physics in 2020.

There were tents in the sit-in square in the centre of Basra, and there was also a tent for students at the University of Basra, which I represented. I lived in a tent here from March to November 2020. After that, we were again suppressed by the government and the judiciary for what was left of us and our protests.

I had the courage to resist the pain and the fear of being killed did not deter me, not during this time when 800 citizens were killed and 25,000 of them were wounded and 68 civilian activists were murdered and killed. They couldn't stop me. I went to the demonstrations with crutches, or the students supported me while I went to the demonstrations with them. The names of the dead and injured were published in the newspaper Mada Baghdad on the Internet. My story and the stories of my comrades-in-arms were seen by everyone. I had many TV appearances and activities, and even the militias couldn't stop me. It was only when they threatened my family by calling my father and telling him: "We will eliminate your family members or blow up your house if Ahmed Ali does not stop his activities against us." Then my family asked me to give up my job and leave Iraq, which I did for the sake of my family.

I travelled to Belarus by booking a ticket with Iraqi Airlines through an office that offered tourist travel. I got my visa there and travelled by plane to Minsk.

From there I took a taxi to the border, then walked through the forest on crutches and jumped over the fence into Lithuania, which was a big risk with my leg with the platinum plate. Then I went to the Lithuanian border guard headquarters, where I handed myself in and asked for asylum.

I travelled there because Germany wouldn't give me a visa to enter the country. I was forced to take this wrong and dangerous path. I don't believe in breaking laws, because I was demanding law and order in my country. But I was forced to do so, there was no other solution for me.

This happened on 25.7.2021 The Lithuanian Immigration Service did not believe me, even though I told them the whole truth and presented them with all the evidence, documents, photos, videos and reports from the hospital where the operations were carried out. I had also filed a complaint with the police station in Iraq. My asylum application was rejected, but the procedures were not fair. Then I was detained for a whole year because I had crossed the Lithuanian border illegally. I was in a closed refugee camp there, like a prison.

I couldn't go out, I could only eat and sleep, nothing more. I told them that I needed to see a specialist because my leg was hurting. They only gave me painkillers, nothing more, and I didn't see a doctor there. Only a doctor's assistant gave me painkillers. They lied to us and treated us with falsehood and deception. They constantly threatened us with deportation to Iraq. We were not wanted and not welcome. We would have to return to our country, they said, and we would get nothing but imprisonment in Lithuania. I had a mental breakdown because of this and still suffer from it. After spending a whole year in Lithuanian prisons, I received a court order to release me on 1 July 2022.

After my release from prison, I came into contact with smugglers who were living in an open camp in Lithuania. I made an agreement with one of them that he would bring me to Germany for 1,500 euros. The money came from a refugee girl in Sweden. She supported me and gave me the money to get out of Lithuania because she knew me from the demonstrations in Iraq and therefore helped me.

I travelled in a taxi with two other people and the driver from Lithuania via Poland to Germany to a city called Frankfurt an der Oder. I got out here, took a 9-euro ticket and travelled to Nuremberg. I applied for asylum there and from there they took me to Augsburg.

I didn't know anyone, but I have a friend in Austria who was also active with us at the demonstrations. He said: "Come to the south, you'll be close to Austria and it's much quieter here in the south."

I came to Germany on 11 July 2022 and submitted my asylum application on 12 July 2022. At the asylum interview, my application was initially rejected in accordance with the Dublin Agreement because I had already given a fingerprint in Lithuania. They wanted me to be sent back to Lithuania, but after eight months had passed, I received a court order on 5 October 2023 that I could stay in Germany for the time being.

I'm now living in a collective refugee centre and it's very bad for me for several reasons: there's no privacy or peace and quiet in the centre, I'm now sick and can't sleep well because of the noise in the centre, and the centre isn't clean. But even worse: I'm an activist and I'm well known, and it's possible that someone who knows me will come and talk about me or do something against me. I don't trust anyone after what happened to me.

Because I was a leader and I escaped, but even though I gave up being a leader, it still goes on. Either you get killed or you get your demands met.

When I left Iraq for Belarus, I posted "I left Iraq" so that the militias would know that I had left Iraq and that I was giving up my activity as an activist so that they would leave my family alone. Then some people from the party talked about me and said that I fled because I was a coward and afraid, and some of those who were at the demonstrations also called me a coward for leaving Iraq. Fortunately, there were also some friends who defended me and spread good words about me.

In Iraq, I lost the clothing shop because it was under threat and I could no longer work there. I had to close it and I lost my girlfriend, who left me out of fear for her own safety. We were going to get married and live together when I was wounded in the legs. She then left me and I lost my family too. I miss her very much and want to see her at all costs, but I don't have a passport to see her in a third country.

If you are really honest, you will be shocked by the lies and falsehood of others. In Iraq, they killed us with lies and falsehood. They said about us that we were agents of other countries, Israel and America, who would give us money to demonstrate against our government and overthrow it. They were clerics in the government, that's why we were killed. They consider our killing permissible in their religion. That's why I left that religion and am now non-religious.

Yes, that is true. I left Islam because those who claim to be Muslims killed us just because we demanded our rights. I saw the lies and the falsehood and that they only use this religion to exploit us and nothing more.

I came here to Germany because I thought that everything would be different here, that I would get my right to live in dignity and my rights as a human being,

I still dream of completing my degree in physics here with a German degree and then doing a Master's degree at a university.

But unfortunately, so far I have got nothing but frustration. No one has helped me to apply for asylum and there is still no one to help me. I still don't have an asylum decision that at least guarantees my life.

The hearing took place a year ago, but I still don't have an asylum decision despite submitting all the supporting documents and evidence. I'm fed up with it all. I suffer from a serious psychological trauma.

At least a third, long overdue operation on my leg has now been carried out, which had been repeatedly postponed due to my lack of health insurance membership, and I can now take part in a language course.

I want to live. I want to convert to a religion because I truly believe in the existence of God, but I don't want to do it at this time so that it doesn't look like I'm doing it just for asylum, because I believe that asylum has nothing to do with God, and especially not religion. I want the decision to be made to grant me asylum and then I will think about belonging to a religion that guarantees my rights as a human being.


Thank you, Ahmed Ali, for having the courage to tell this story here!