Lawyer Nandita Haksar, a prominent member of Indian civil society, is spearheading a campaign on behalf of those displaced by wars in the Gulf region.
She's desperately looking for humanitarian groups in Canada who could sponsor two Iraqi brothers who landed in her country in 2014.
Mohammad, 33, and Mahdi, 30, have survived several wars and deadly conflicts in Iraq since their childhood. This included the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that culminated in the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Things turned from bad to worse as Sunni extremists gathered strength in subsequent years and increased their targeting of Shias. Since the two brothers belong to the Shia community, they became potential target of militias, such as ISIL.
Under these circumstances, they became “internally displaced people” with no sustainable livelihood. Their studies were disrupted as both brothers were compelled to do menial jobs for survival.
As luck would have it, Mahdi worked in a barber shop but when ISIL entered Baghdad, it declared cutting of hair as “haram” (forbidden) and killed barbers.
Following the kidnapping of their father in 2014, the boys were sent into hiding by their mother. A few weeks later, they were given passports and visas and put on a flight to India.
All they were told was that in India they would find acceptance and tolerance. Little did they realize that they arrived in the same year that India elected a right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP government under hawkish Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Not only have attacks on religious minorities, especially Muslims, spiked under Modi, his government aspires to turn India into a Hindu theocracy.
The two brothers found their way to the United Nations refugee agency in New Delhi and were recognized as refugees, but were offered no financial assistance.
Mahdi worked as a barber and Mohammad as a waiter. They both tried to earn a living and for short periods of time they managed. However, they continue to face police harassment as their papers do not give them right to work or even open a bank account—and the fear of deportation continues to haunt them.
Haksar told Straight over the phone that they both are victims of Islamophobia and narrated an incident in which Mahdi was beaten by supporters of the Hindu Right.
While adding that it makes her feel deeply ashamed, she recalled: “He went to join people playing at Diwali (the Hindu festival of lights), people allowed him, and he was enjoying it when goons came and beat him up and said 'how dare you join Diwali celebrations?' And they have no right to protection and can’t go to the police.”
Ironically, the two brothers who had to leave their homeland for being Shias had to face the music in a country led by Muslim haters who do not distinguish between Sunnis and Shias and treat all Muslims alike.
Haksar believes that Canada—which has welcomed 400,000 immigrants this year and which participated in the 1991 Gulf War—has a moral responsibility to accept these two men, who have nowhere to go.
She pointed out that India does not have a refugee protection law and that in most cases, it does not give citizenship to refugees. Having spent time with them, she thinks they can contribute as translators for Arabs living in Canada.
Haksar is not only a published author, but a tireless advocate for human rights. She stood up for victims of Sikh genocide in 1984 by cowriting a book on victims of state-sponsored pogroms and for Muslims and other ethnic minorities who have been subjected to repression in the world’s so-called largest democracy.
She first found Mohammad and Mahdi camping helplessly in front of the UN High Commission for Refugees office on the road. After she took them under her wing, they both began referring to her as their grandmother.