Student - April 8, 2016

'I want to build a life here’

Linda van der Nat

Ammar Rubayi (34) fled from Iraq to the Netherlands in 2008. He recently graduated from Wageningen, thanks to a grant for refugee students. ‘I love the Netherlands.’

Ammar Rubayi is enthusiastic about the Wageningen approach to learning: ‘I had a lot more group work and presentations here than in Baghdad.’ Photo Sven Menschel

He still has nightmares about it. In 2008 Ammar Rubayi was kidnapped by a group of men in his home city of Baghdad. ‘It was a traumatic experience. I was kept in captivity and mistreated for several days. Eventually, with the help of my grandfather who lives in America, my family paid 10,000 dollars to get me released.

Ammar was left unconscious at the side of the road. It is still a mystery who kidnapped him. ‘At that time kidnapping was a business in Iraq. People were making money that way. It happened to me because I come from a well-off family: my father was a helicopter pilot in the army and my mother was a scientist with the ministry of Health.’

All refugees have their dreams

One thing was clear to Ammar: that he needed to leave Iraq. Since the American invasion and the fall of Saddam Hussein, the country had become a dangerous and chaotic place. Ammar: ‘I was a pharmacist and worked in a children’s hospital. After work I went home as fast as possible. It was so unsafe on the streets that you tried not to be outside any longer than necessary. There were shootings everywhere, a bus could explode or a car bomb could go off at any time. I saw people change: they were stressed and scared.’


Ammar fled Iraq together with his father, whose solidarity was called in question after the fall of Saddam Hussein. ‘My father was no longer safe in Iraq. Hundreds of pilots were killed in the period after 2003.’Ammar travelled from Iraq to Turkey and from there to the Netherlands. ‘I was in a truck, behind the driver in the cabin. I had no idea where we were going. I had lost track of my father on the way.’

Ammar Rubayi (second from the left) in 2005 at the Al-Noman hospital in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.
Ammar Rubayi (second from the left) in 2005 at the Al-Noman hospital in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.

Ammar ended up in Amsterdam at the end of December 2008. ‘I can remember that it was cold, really cold. It was snowing.’ He took the train to the asylum-seekers’ centre at Ter Apel, where a long procedure was set in motion to get a residence permit. He moved from Ter Apel to Eindhoven and from Eindhoven to Heerlen. ‘It was a stressful period,’ Ammar says of that time. ‘I was in a constant state of amazement and confusion: what is going to happen to me next? I couldn’t enjoy the fact that I was in another world now.’ The only comfort was that he was reunited with his father in Heerlen.

In May 2009 Ammar received the good news that he was to get a residence permit. He moved to a flat in Zeist, started learning Dutch and preparing himself to go to university. The UAF, a foundation which helps refugees find work or higher education in the Netherlands, paid for his language courses and later his tuition fees and textbooks. He is grateful for that. ‘All refugees have dreams. They want to achieve something. My move from Iraq to here was like a birth: it’s as though you are starting a new life.’

Parties every day

It took a while still before Ammar could actually start on a higher education course. His father fell ill and he looked after him. In the end he started the Wageningen Master’s programme in Food quality management in 2014. ‘I am interested in food quality and for my thesis I could draw on my background in pharmacy to make links between food and medical drugs.’ The Wageningen approach to learning suited him. ‘Medical programmes in Baghdad are very stressful. You spend a lot of time in the lab and you get a lot of information in a short period. Here there was more group work and presentations. I didn’t find the material difficult: I was more qualified than you had to be for the Master’s. So I got good grades, sevens and eights.’

Wageningen student life suited Ammar too. ‘For students who live in Wageningen it’s a party every day.’ There are so many nice activities and interesting organizations. Ammar tried to get as involved as he could, which was a bit difficult since he lived in Zeist. ‘I did my best to stay as long as I could after classes, for group work or lab work. I joined in the Arabian Nights at ISOW.’ Ammar was also on the jury of the Teacher of the Year Awards 2015.

Cream cakes

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It has been a beautiful journey, from 2014 till now, says Ammar. ‘I love Iraq but I love the Netherlands too, you are in my heart. I like Dutch licorice and the cream cakes, and I barbecue with my neighbours.’ He doesn’t know whether he’ll ever go back to Iraq. ‘I want to build a life here, gain experience and develop myself. I was given the chance to study here and now I want to give something back. Integration is an important part of that.’

For this reason, his advice to refugees coming to the Netherlands now is: learn the language and get some higher education. ‘The experience you bring from your home country is not enough by itself. To succeed here you have to have studied here, so you need to get a degree from a Dutch university.’

Re:actions 2

  • Romanian

    I'm really glad that some people find Wageningen great desite my horrible experience where I almost killed myself due to depression. I found the people from the Bible belt areas (Gelderland in general but mostly Wageningen locals and some locals of neighboring Veenendaal) very rude. I find people from Amsterdam and Noord-Brabant friendlier to foreigners. More multi-ethnic marriages and friendships there as well. Have you noticed how in Wageningen the expats stick together and sometimes with well-traveled Dutch people from the South or West of the Netherlands as well, while they are avoided by the locals like the plague?

    Due to my pale white skin White Middle Aged and Elderly People would always speak to me in Dutch assuming I'm Dutch and make funny gestures of dismissal when I said "I'm sorry I do not speak Dutch". So rude! Yet they avoid asking people of color or wearing Islamic veil even though they're born there and know perfect Dutch. I'm still trying to recover after the abuse I experienced by locals in Wageningen and Veenendaal, so White Dutch Protestant cliquey! People in Noord-Brabant are much more friendlier!

  • Teilo North

    After reading this i'm happy that as your neighbor (then) i was able to let you feel a little more at home. You are a good man and you work too hard.
    God bless you Brother!


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  • Freedom or Fraud ?

    After checking some facts about Ammar and we only can conclude that Ammar is not the person which could be mentioned as a good example of integration !

    Someone with the name S.F.A. Al-Rubaye (woman) would live also on that address?
    This name looks nearly similar as Rubayi ?!?
    But it could lead to confusion or more...

    But nevertheless, he now has got a Dutch passport (around october 2016) !!
    And Ammar have changed his name also!

    Ammar Rubayi is now Ammar FAWZI !!!

    Recently Ammar Fawzi and his wife? Zahraa Sabah and baby moved to somewhere else?

    We want to thank those people for not checking and dealing with such persons as Ammar. It gives a good feeling how easy it all goes and there has been again sent a wrong signal to the good and working citizens !

  • Former resident

    When you read this it would be another nice story of a refugee who finds his way in the Netherlands with help of the UAF by private donations.
    Unfortunately the story told is not accurate and incomplete.

    Unfortunately his 'kidnap' story and whether a ransom has been paid cannot be checked.
    Despite background parents (work, contacts) paying the ransom was apparently the only solution?

    The following info and facts will give a different view about his story and way of integration!

    End 2009 Ammar got an apartment. He must feel lucky ! This is within 1 year while most people have to wait much longer! His father joined him shortly so he was not alone in asylum center?
    Many residents thought that father & son were both placed in this apartment.
    In 2011 his father and also his mother and sister ! Were placed together in another apartment.
    From 2012 to 2014 the apartment of Ammar was uninhabited. Lived somewhere else ?
    Beginning 2015 suddenly Ammar returned to the apartment with wife.....was also married ???
    Around april 2016 ? they got a baby.

    Ammar said that he continued his study in 2014 after taking care of his fathers illness?
    Why couldn't his mother or sister not taking care of 'father'... they lived in the same apartment?
    Remarkable is that his father in that period regularly visited the apartment of Ammar to pick up the mail and sometimes stayed shortly in Ammar's apartment (upstairs). This to give other people the idea that the apartment is habituated ? But wasn't father ill and cared needing?
    Was he really sick or maybe a lie for own good? Why aren't Ammar's mother and sister not mentioned?

    For 3 years long (January 2012 till end 2014) the apartment of Ammar was uninhabited ! Why?
    Only sometimes used as a holiday home !
    Also in 2013 and 2014 there were 2 people registrated at address of Ammar who would live there, while the apartment was uninhabited in that period!
    In February 2014 Ammar bought a car of more than €4000,- euro while he was a student ?
    If he has a low income, no work where does the money come from? Saved by living at his parents?
    Maybe getting remission for municipal taxes and water board and maybe received in that year (2014) a food package for people on low incomes!
    If someone claims that he comes from a wealthy family does that not mean you are decent and neat on rules. Especially if you have the opportunity to get a residence permit in another country in order to build a new life. This and also by the social security and social benefits uses and partly by UAF (study).

    It seems that his parents suddenly moved (2015) to a senior apartment while others have to wait for years and probably gets care fee.
    So all in all they could not complain that this is regulated as quickly while they're still nothing have contributed to our society! But knowing the way to social benefits etc... even with their background!

    In all these years and with his background / study in Iraq there was no time to find a (part-time) work to earn some money than abuse the social security. Finally, in 2016 he's saying he got a paying job? Believing Ammar is far away from a good example for integration !
    And really do something back for their new country!

    Hoping by reading this, people will check more carefully the real facts!