Filmmakers: Abdulalem Alshamery & Nasser Farghaly
Over the decades, millions of people from the Arab world have emigrated – some driven by conflict and persecution, others for economic and family reasons. They have settled in Europe, Australia, the Americas and Africa.
But media coverage tends to focus on refugees fleeing war, poverty and persecution, often at the start of their treacherous journeys. These stories can sometimes be stereotyped and incomplete.
In the Arabs Abroad series, Al Jazeera World profiles the lives of migrants long after their initial journey. We meet people who have built successful lives away from their Arab homelands, while remaining connected to their roots – each in their own way giving something back to the region of their birth.
The Dutch-Iraqi businesswoman
In 1996, teenager Nada al-Rubaiee arrived in the Netherlands with her family as a refugee. Twenty years later, the successful pharmacist and businesswoman who was born in Iraq was chosen as one of the 100 most influential figures in the country.
When al-Rubaiee first arrived in the Netherlands – after some years in Syria, Yugoslavia and Cyprus – the family lived for several months in a refugee centre.
“We all lived in one room. These were tough times,” she recalls.
She learned Dutch and attempted to integrate into her new country, yet she struggled to establish herself in the new society, and describes feeling “tired and homesick” after the family moved to the town of Ede.
But she persisted, soon mastering the language, completing school and graduating from college, where she earned a master’s degree in pharmacy.
She joined a loss-making pharmacy business and set about transforming its fortunes. Within two years, she had turned the company around. She then decided to use her entrepreneurial talents in her own business, where she taught retail skills to pharmacy students.
Five years later, she headed a highly profitable business, employing 30 people, not just Dutch nationals but also staff from Turkey, Morocco, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The challenges al-Rubaiee experienced settling into a new country motivated her to spend time helping other young women and refugees find jobs and integrate into society.
What she describes as her “close family bond” also helps her stay connected to her Iraqi roots.
Milan’s first Muslim female councillor
“The second generation [of immigrants] feel Italian. They get involved in all walks of life from politics to culture,” she says.
Abdel Qader has enjoyed a special relationship with the city of Milan since her student days at Milan University. There, she immersed herself in student politics while at the same time playing an active role in several Muslim youth groups.
She is also a prominent women’s rights activist.
“We try to put forward a different face than the stereotypical image of Muslim women, because we’re not always oppressed or living troubled lives,” she says about her work. “On the contrary, there’s a very positive image to reflect.”
In 2016, Abdel Qader moved from social activism to organised politics – becoming the first Muslim woman to win a seat in Milan’s local governing council. As an elected councillor, she found herself in a position to argue for real and meaningful change in her adopted city.
“I face a lot of opponents who try to make me quit or step back from my principles. They try to make me give up,” she says. But she is committed to her work.
“I represent everyone in Milan,” she says, not just the Muslim constituents. But she adds that having a seat on the city council also helps Muslims to secure their rights. She believes in championing coexistence between the city’s different communities.
Married with three children, Abdel Qader describes herself as being part of a “multinational” family – an Italian Muslim of Arab origin.