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Aws pictured with refugee children at the Small Projects Istanbul Center in Turkey, November 2016.

Aws (25) fled from Baghdad, Iraq where his family was persecuted for their religious and social identity. Because they were secular and from a mixed religious background, they were threatened by both Sunni and Shia militants. The militants first killed their dog and painted threats on their home. Aws’s mother was then put in jail. As an open atheist and supporter of gay rights, Aws has no plans to return to Iraq.

After fleeing to Turkey, Aws had to leave school early and find work to provide for his family. He worked in cafes, factories, and restaurants. As he cannot legally work, he was often paid less than minimum wage or his salary was withheld, and thus struggled to support himself or his family. He eventually moved to Istanbul to seek an opportunity in the tourism industry. However, when Turkey fell into a political crisis and terrorist attacks struck, tourism mostly dried up and he was the first to be cut. He was fined 2000TL and beaten when it was discovered he was working illegally, falling into debt without payment for the work he had already done.

Now Aws volunteers at the Small Projects Istanbul Center helping other refugees and translating English and Arabic. To go further with this, Aws wants to finish his high school diploma, go on to study international relations at a university and then work to help refugees on an international level.

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