Alyaa Al Barrak is one of 70 Iraqi students studying at the University of Northampton – and like her fellow compatriots here, she is terrified by what could be waiting for her when she returns to her homeland when she’s completed her studies.
The bombing of a shopping district in Alyaa’s home city of Baghdad on Sunday 3 July claimed almost 300 lives – with so-called Islamic State (IS) claiming responsibility for the atrocity.
“I have received news my friend, and 10 of her family members, were killed in the blast – wiped out in less than a minute,” said PhD student Alyaa, who came to the University in 2013
“I spent the last three days crying, not knowing what to do, or who I should call back home.
“I have many friends in the area where the bombs went off, and my nephews spend a lot of their time there. I have spoken to my father and he says the family is safe, but there are so many missing families that the death toll will rise, I am sure.”
Alyaa has had to watch from afar as her country has been torn apart by terrorist attacks. She points to IS’s killing of 1,700 military recruits in 2014 as a tipping point in the crisis.
“Everybody from Iraq living here loves their country, they are here, but their heart and soul is in Iraq,” she said.
“But to be living there now would be horrible, because each day, and it seems almost like every minute, someone is being killed.
“It is really important that people looking in from the outside understand the people who carry out these attack are not Muslims – they claim they are, but this is proof they are not, as they have claimed the lives of so many Muslims.”
Alyaa and her fellow students held a vigil for the victims of the Baghdad bombing at the University’s Avenue Campus last week – which she hopes will help to raise awareness in the West of what is happening in Iraq.
“For the future, I really don’t know what will happen,” she said. “I’m now thinking about my daughter, and when I finish my PhD – if we return to Iraq, are we going to be the next victims?
“Will we live and will I see her married, one day? I just don’t know what our life will be, now.”
Iraqi students make up around five per cent of the international student population at the University of Northampton, with 60 undergraduates and 10 studying for a postgraduate programme.
The University of Northampton and the University of Babylon signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2013, which allows staff and students to collaborate across a wide range of subject areas. Nursing and Computing students at both institutions have the opportunity to take part in a study twinning exchange, which enables them to split their course between the two universities.
Listen to Alyaa talking to BBC Radio Northampton, the item starts at 36:30.