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Finding Farah -

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In 2010 in the aftermath of the Iraq war, Fouad Hady was in Baghdad reporting on the dramatic rise in the number of disfigured babies being born. Doctors debated whether depleted uranium used in bombs and bullets during the conflict may have been the cause. One of the babies featured in that award-winning report was little Farah. Fouad has never forgotten the severely disabled child and he recently returned to Iraq to try and find out what had happened to her. Here’s his story.

REPORTER: Fouad Hady

Baghdad. Three years ago I filmed a young disfigured baby girl, abandoned at a hospital near here. The memory of that poor child has haunted me ever since and I need to find out what has happened to her.

This was the day I first met her. She was very close to dying. Her name is Farah, which means 'Happiness'. She's been isolated from other babies, because she is very sick.

REPORTER: (Translation): What’s wrong with Farah?

DR NADAA (Translation): She has acute infections, she was very ill yesterday, she was almost finished.

Farah has a cleft palette, no eyelids, a badly deformed face and many, many other problems and that was when I last saw Farah. To begin my search for her, I have returned to the hospital. Dr Nadaa who treated Farah, is still here.

DR NADAA (Translation): And they have this one, she is mentally retarded. Yes. Okay. I have Jenna’s reports. Bye.

And she is still treating babies born with terrible birth defects.

DR NADAA: See this case, completely abnormal lower limb.

She tells me she last saw Farah a year-and-a-half ago, after four operations.

DR NADAA: We make her a cosmetic anomaly that she has a nose small lovely nose, and we do have, we close the palate, she was complaining from cleft palate. Also, we made a partial eyelids. The ophthalmologist, when she see her cornea they say she would have completely lost her vision after a few months. You cannot do a cornea replacement. This operation was not available here, so that we have to send her out. One of the countries outside. We will do a cornea replacement. Because she has no passport, we cannot do it for her now. We cannot give her a passport from here and we have to send her to the orphanage.

Farah has become a ward of the state and she is now in a government orphanage. The Minister for Labour and Social Affairs, Dr Nassar al-Rubayie, is now Farah's legal guardian and I must seek his permission to see her. Wednesdays are always busy for the minister, Dr Al-Rubayie.

DR NASSAR AL-RUBAYIE, MINISTER (Translation): Today the number is 450 because Sunday was a holiday, so less people apply.

On this one day a week, at least some of Baghdad's needy get a chance to appeal directly to Dr Al-Rubayie in his own office.

MAN (Translation): Mr Minister, I want solutions. I want you to sort it out for me, sir. Look at my leg, sir. It is going to be amputated.

It is an event unique in government in Iraq.

WOMAN (Translation): What is your problem?

MAN 2 (Translation): Two coronaries and a stroke left me with hemiplegia.

The minister's social affairs portfolio covers the poor, the needy, the destitute and in Iraq, there are a lot of them.

DR NASSAR AL-RUBAYIE (Translation): There are millions of disabled people in Iraq. Over 50% of the population receive a disability allowance. Over 50%.

In this nation, without a proper social security system, most people who want, or need any kind of help, must get through a series of committees and courts. It can take years. But my connections get me directly to the minister. That is how Iraq works. He gives me permission to see Farah. This is the orphanage where she is living now. Inside it is clean, tidy, and spacious.

RANA FADEL, SOCIAL WORKER (Translation): We don’t know who their parents are. They came here… one through Diyala hospital, the other from al-Iskan hospital. She is normal but they are disabled.

NURSE (Translation): They need a mother’s tenderness. So we try to be substitute mothers.

The children are having their afternoon rest and I found Farah in her cot.

REPORTER: Hello Farah. Morning.

RANA FADEL (Translation): Farah has a friendly attitude, despite the way she looks, the deformities, her ill health and her different way of eating.

Rana Fadel is a social researcher at the orphanage.

RANA FADEL (Translation): She has difficulty swallowing, difficulty breathing, her eyesight, she has a deformed cornea and despite all this, psychologically she is fine. A child who suffers all this would most probably have an attitude, anger and aggression but she doesn’t. She doesn’t have these problems.

NURSE (Translation): She used to be scared of children, She didn’t interact with them. She was isolated. Gradually, we taught her to eat. She started eating. The kids now interact with her, like a sister. They used to be scared of her before. In addition, you see how she walks. She never walked before. We did physio for her.

RANA FADEL (Translation): We started teaching her to talk. Maybe some people would be put off by her but we are not. We embraced her. We are mothers. We have disabled children ourselves. We don’t make her feel that her condition is bad. We laugh with her, we make her dance, we sing to her. We create a pleasant environment, that everyone wants.

The orphanage has a resident physician Dr Mowaffaq, he was here when Farah first arrived.

DR MOWAFFAQ (Translation): She was 18 months old when we got her. She had undergone operations there at the hospital, around three as far as we know. As far as we know, the government has approved her travel outside of Iraq to continue with her procedures, operations to the eye and other remaining deformities, such as the nose.

REPORTER (Translation): But that didn’t happen. Why not?

DR MOWAFFAQ (Translation): It didn’t, we’re waiting for them to issue her with a passport, which in turn requires documents and she has no one, she’s of unknown parentage.

NURSE (Translation): Peace be upon you.

REPORTER (Translation): And upon you.

DR MOWAFFAQ (Translation): Darling, how are you? Are you well?

NURSE (Translation): Her eyes…She has poor vision. If she holds a cloth or something that has flowers, she brings it close to her eyes. Close to the pupil. She brings it close, like this. But she’s so good with voices.

DR MOWAFFAQ (Translation): Look up, dear. Farah…Good. This is the cosmetic surgery that was done for her. You can see the effects. She is shy.

REPORTER (Translation): How long have you been following up on this for?

RANA FADEL (Translation): Frankly, I’ve been assigned to follow up on her case since January. And before me there were two or three researchers who couldn’t finish the application for her. But praise be to God, I managed to get the application moving.

REPORTER (Translation): So, it’s been two years and the ID hasn’t been issued?

RANA FADEL (Translation): It was difficult, even for children who have families - it’s hard enough to have IDs issued for them. You know how things are. But we are almost in the final stages of having the ID issued, and then it will be the certificate of citizenship and then the passport. So that she can travel for treatment. I told them many times that the child needed treatment. Her treatment is being postponed day after day, why?

REPORTER (Translation): Who is not cooperating, specifically?

RANA FADEL (Translation): Baghdad’s Health Department.

REPORTER (Translation): Baghdad’s Health Department?

RANA FADEL (Translation): Yes.

REPORTER (Translation): How?

RANA FADEL (Translation): Hindrance to a great degree. It’s seems unfortunately, that people’s lives are cheap here. And she is one of the cases.

The minister is go going to visit the orphanage, to give them present for the end of Ramadan. It is my chance to speak to him about my fears for Farah.

REPORTER (Translation): Farah’s been in your orphanage for a-year-and-half...

DR NASSAR AL-RUBAYIE (Translation): Could be.

REPORTER (Translation): Of course. She hasn’t got her citizenship or been sent abroad.

DR NASSAR AL-RUBAYIE (Translation): No, she will get the citizenship.

REPORTER (Translation): When?

DR NASSAR AL-RUBAYIE (Translation): Anyone of unknown parentage…

REPORTER (Translation): Is the citizenship delayed?

DR NASSAR AL-RUBAYIE (Translation): No, it’s being issued to her.

REPORTER (Translation): But why has it taken a-year-and-a-half? Is it negligence?

DR NASSAR AL-RUBAYIE (Translation): No, you see, to go abroad…What is their situation, their legal situation, in regard to citizenship?

REPORTER (Translation): Is travelling abroad under your authority? - Will you send her abroad?

DR NASSAR AL-RUBAYIE (Translation): We’ll see. We’ll see.

REPORTER (Translation): God willing.

When we arrive, the local media are waiting. Like any politician, the minister loves an opportunity for publicity.

CHILDREN (Translation): Welcome. Welcome, the visitors. You honour us with your visit. Don’t see us as young, we are knowledgeable, thanks to education.

DR NASSAR AL-RUBAYIE (Translation): This is a shirt for you.

NURSE (Translation): Say ‘ Thank you.’ Say thank you, my dear.

BOY (Translation): Thank you.

NURSE (Translation): You welcome, darling.

He calls a meeting about Farah.

DR NASSAR AL-RUBAYIE (Translation): What difficulties did you face?

NURSE (Translation): We had difficulty at Baghdad Health, Al-Rasafa. It’s delayed there.

DR NASSAR AL-RUBAYIE (Translation): Why is it delayed?

NURSE (Translation): Al-Rasafa is delaying it.

DR NASSAR AL-RUBAYIE (Translation): I need to know in who’s office so I can lift the phone and ring Bagdad’s Health, whether it’s al-Karakh or al-Rasafa. You let me talk to them. If it’s with a manager I can talk to them.

NURSE (Translation): When the ID is issued….

DR NASSAR AL-RUBAYIE (Translation): Her passport…

NURSE (Translation): We’ll have the citizenship issued…

DR NASSAR AL-RUBAYIE (Translation): Did you choose the name?

NURSE (Translation): Farah. She came here as Farah and she’ll stay with the same
name. Her father’s name is Abdullah, as her parentage is unknown.

DR NASSAR AL-RUBAYIE (Translation): Did we get a letter for Al-Alwiya hospital to the effect that they wanted to send her outside Iraq?

NURSE (Translation): No, nothing official. But we just want to complete her paperwork…

DR NASSAR AL-RUBAYIE (Translation): We can have the passport issued in a day for you.

Hi, Farah. How are you? Does she understand?

CARER (Translation): She understands. She is intelligent.

DR NASSAR AL-RUBAYIE (Translation): This is for you.

CARER (Translation): Farah, this is for you.

DR NASSAR AL-RUBAYIE (Translation): Every week, every Monday I want an update on the medical condition and the administrative situation for her care, so we can get to the bottom of this. So we can resolve this issue of Al-Alwiya hospital. We sort out this issue.

Farah, despite her condition, is at least being well looked after. Now she must wait for the government to give her an identity. And with nothing but promises, I have to leave Iraq - and Farah.

ANJALI RAO: We are told that Farah has now received her identity papers. That's the first step, but will she be provided with a passport and who will fund a trip overseas for medical treatment? No easy answers it seems. You can still see the original story about Farah from 2010 on our website.





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29th October 2013