Exiled Iraqi journalist: 'I am almost a member of Swiss society'

An Iraqi journalist who fled to Switzerland speaks about her former life in Baghdad and why her current life is sometimes isolating.

This content was published on July 17, 2020 - 15:17

Thikra Mohammed Nader knows war. She has lived through three in Iraq and one in Lebanon.  

Now exiled in Switzerland, the award-winning Iraqi writer met us in a park in Geneva to discuss new life here and how it is different from the past.  

Nader, a Baghdad native who worked there as a journalist for a quarter century, fled to Switzerland in 2006. Decades ago, she was honoured by the Iraqi government for her work and was one of the first journalists on the ground of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980. But throughout her career and especially following the arrival of American troops in Iraq in 2003, she was targeted and threatened for her writing which contained ideas that ran counter to the agenda of the ruling regime and various powerful fundamentalist groups.

In Switzerland, she says she has found a place where she can live "as a human being." She praises the country's "breathtaking nature, its security and safety and everything it offers". 

But she doesn’t shy away from addressing the hardships of a life in exile. She hasn't been able to re-establish herself as a journalist due to the difficulties of learning a Swiss language. As a result, she has felt a more profound sense of isolation.  

She expresses these feelings in the poems she writes about her life in Geneva. In them, there is much nostalgia for her former life in Baghdad and the alienation she experiences today in Switzerland as a foreigner.  

"A normal day" by Thikra Mohammed Nader

It doesn't seem to be a bad idea

If I wasted my life waiting for you

Searching for whoever resembles you

The café is full of them

Those who don't know you

The café is full of them

I'm not here

you're not there

You're not just a piece of the past

So how come you're here now?

But living in my past, and now?

Something awakens in me

rises from my memories

but drowns again like pearls

meeting the depth of the sea

and so do my sorrows

my dearest stories

so does my normal day

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She refuses to call herself a poet, but says "I feel the situation and write about it in my own way". 

In addition to her work for Iraqi television stations and newspapers, Nader has written a book on the history of Iraq as well as a collection of short stories.

Looking back at her previous life, Nader said what she missed most were the evenings spent meeting fellow journalists, writers and poets. She lamented being far from "my source of inspiration: the issues of my homeland and community".  

One thing hasn't changed: Even after 14 years in exile in Switzerland, the journalist remains a target of online attacks that include threats to her life. They relate to her active presence on Twitter, where she comments freely on Iraq’s turbulent politics.

Nader is one of thousands of Iraqis who have sought asylum in Switzerland. Currently, some 3,000 Iraqi citizens are in the asylum process in the Alpine country, with another 2,500 having received refugee status, according to the Federal Office for Migration. That makes Iraqis the fifth-largest population of asylum seekers in Switzerland, after Afghans, Eritreans, Syrians and Somalis.

A journalist with decades of experience, Nader’s insights and analysis can be sharp. The online threats in reaction to her writing serve as a reminder that she cannot go back to her home country.  

"Iraq is what remains of it in my memories," she said. "My memories and dreams have melted with its history and my aspirations for its future."  

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