The story of Yahay Alabdeli

TEDxBaghdad is initiated by Yahay Alabdeli, an Iraqi refugee who lives in Amsterdam. His life story is an impressive one. Both sad and optimistic. At the first meeting of the project group for TEDxBaghdad Yahay tells us about his life.

Start of Iran-Iraq War

Yahay Alabdeli moved from Iraq in 1979, when he was only 4 years old. His family lost everything in just a few hours. Yahay tells: “My mother picked me up from school. We saw soldiers in the streets. They took everything, including my father. My father, a businessman, was supposed to have a meeting on the economic future of Iraq. This meeting was supposed to take half an hour. It became 6 months. They took him to prison. They left my mother, my brother (who was 1 year old) and me (4 years) behind. They told my mother to go to her parents. So we did.”

“One evening two men came to the door. They said to my mother that she needed to prepare her two kids for a trip. They wanted to take us to our father in prison, because boys are supposed to stay with their father. Girls stay with their mother. My mother said: “Come back tomorrow. I’ll prepare their bags.” The same second she took a taxi with us in the evening, with no luggage, to Kuwait. We stayed there for a year. Then we heard about my father’s whereabouts.”

Out of prison

“When my father got out of prison, they took him to the border between Iraq and Iran. He got three options. They said: “If you go right, there are landmines. If you go left there’s the Iraqi war and straight ahead there’s Iran.” He walked for three days. Without water or food. Plus, he carried his mother of 90 years old. After a day people couldn’t wear their clothes, because they felt so heavy. And my father had his mother to carry. Incredible. For me it’s a great story on how you can make it, stand up again and be a human again,” says Yahay.


“So, we didn’t know about my father for almost a year. Eventually, we met him in Syria. We became a family again and we moved to Sweden. That’s where I grew up.

I lived there for about 18 years. My family and friends live there. I have a Swedish nationality. We lived in a small village of 4.000 people. If I changed my t-shirt, everyone would know! We were the only foreign family.”

“Since about ten years I live in The Netherlands. Love brought me here.”

Irene de Waal

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