Baggage of despair | Borneo Online Newsletter


SULAIMANIYAH, IRAQ (AFP) – Iraqi Kurd Haresh Talib has said he is struggling to get paid and his children’s schooling is being disrupted in his conflict-ridden country. He therefore wants to try to flee with his family to Europe.

“There is no future here,” said the 36-year-old from the autonomous region of Kurdistan in northern Iraq.

Talib, his hair slicked back and beard neatly trimmed, lives on the first floor of a pastel yellow house with his wife, two sons and a pet bird in a well-groomed neighborhood of Sulaimaniyah, Kurdistan’s second-largest city. .

Their living room television is playing the hit British cartoon Peppa Pig, much to the amusement of Talib’s eight-year-old son, Haudin.

Outside, his older brother Hajant is dribbling a soccer ball.

“I love Real Madrid. I’m a fan of Benzema,” the 12-year-old said in English, referring to French Real star Karim Benzema.

At first glance, this may seem like a picture of a satisfied middle-class family, but Talib said they will soon pack up their things and take the irregular migration route.

They and thousands of other Iraqi Kurds have already done so.

Iraqi Kurd Haresh Talib works at his desk at a printing press in Sulaymaniyah, in northeastern Iraq, in the autonomous region of Kurdistan. PHOTO: AFP

He refuses to reveal how he and his family will travel or by what route, but says he wants to reach Britain where he has friends.

“But if it doesn’t work, I’ll go to Germany.”

In November, at least 27 migrants, mostly Iraqi Kurds, drowned while trying to cross the English Channel from France to Britain in a rubber boat.

Despite the risks, Talib said he wanted to try again – not so much for himself as for his sons, whose schooling is frequently interrupted by teachers’ strikes over unpaid salaries.

“In these countries, there is work. You can guarantee that the children will get an education,” he said.

Talib works two jobs to help his family get by. He is a printer and a civil servant.

“The government asks us to work but it hasn’t paid us on time for years,” he complains.

While the rest of Iraq struggles to overcome decades of war, Kurdistan has carved out the image of a stable region suitable for foreign investors.

But its more than five million residents see a different reality.

Unemployment there exceeded 17% last year, against 14% nationally, according to the Baghdad planning ministry.

Two out of three households in Iraqi Kurdistan depend on a government salary or pension, but payments are chronically late due to tensions between the regional government in Arbil and authorities in Baghdad.

Arbil accuses the central government of not passing on its share of the federal budget to civil servants.

“We have seen in recent years an economic crisis, as well as perceptions of widespread corruption, growing inequality and political stagnation” in Iraqi Kurdistan, said a researcher from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Shivan Fazil.

These have been “among the main drivers of the latest wave of migration” from the region, he said.

At the same time, there is “an increasingly repressive pattern of active restriction of freedom of expression”, through intimidation, arbitrary arrests and other means, according to a United Nations (UN) report l ‘last year.

The threat of conflict, too, is never far away.

In northern Iraq, the Turkish military is targeting what it says are bases of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is listed as a terrorist group by Ankara and its Western allies.

The PKK has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.

Several civilians died in May in strikes carried out by both sides.

Then come the local political conflicts between rival clans, the Barzanis of Arbil and the Talabanis of Sulaimaniyah.

Their “struggle for power has nothing to do with the interests of the people”, Talib said, citing unspecified “threats” against him.

Last fall, thousands of Iraqi Kurds found themselves on the doorstep of the European Union, stuck in freezing conditions on the Belarusian border.

The West has accused Minsk of luring them there in revenge for sanctions against its regime.

Talib and his family were among the crowd after flying to Minsk.

Between October and December, Talib twice paid a smuggler to help smuggle him and his family into Poland.

In a failed effort, “a border guard dog jumped on my son, so I kicked the dog. Then the police beat me and we were arrested,” Talib said.

In a third attempt, they used fake Greek passports. This too led to their detention.

They were deported to Kurdistan in December, weighed down by the same baggage they had left behind – a desire to “get out of this jungle”.


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