There are days now when Ms. Hussein has to force herself to hold it all in until her children leave the house — and only then allows herself to sob, she said. Bureen is in the sixth grade, Ms. Ali attends a technical institute (though unpaid tuition bills have left her academic status in doubt) and Abdulrahman is also looking into classes.
The first time the family tried to flee Iraq was in 2015.
That year, Ms. Hussein sold her house to pay smugglers who led her and her children for four months across European borders, encountering obstacles that seemed straight out of a movie. In one forest near the Bulgarian-Greek border, they said, their group was threatened by a large bear as their hashish-smoking Afghan guide slept.
After finally reaching Germany, the family spent five months in a detention facility waiting for their asylum case to be decided. But home had not lost its pull.
Ms. Hussein’s father was sick. Her younger son missed his own dad. And she thought there was a chance her ex-husband might return to her.
So Ms. Hussein asked Germany to deport them.
“Bria told me I destroyed their lives,” she said earlier this week. “She said, ‘You brought us back from Germany’ — and she is right. I always try to escape that fact, but I can’t.”
As she wiped away tears, Ms. Ali, her daughter, tried to console her.
In their rented apartment in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, the living room was bare, apart from a beige sectional sofa and a thin carpet, curling up at the edges.
That was more comfort than they enjoyed at the detention center in Germany six years ago, when they slept on a bare floor with no pillows and blankets, though Ms. Ali said she had been happy.