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down and out
recent returnees to kurdish boom towns get less than they bargained for

Abdul-Khaleq Dosky
Iraqi Kurdistan is booming – property prices are rising, local business is flourishing and the political situation is stable. This is drawing Iraqi Kurdish, who immigrated previously, home. But many of the…
1.05.2014  |  Dohuk
A busy intersection in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan.
A busy intersection in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan.

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“I was so happy when I got back, I almost cried,” says Iraqi Kurdish man, Suleiman Mazrawi – he’s describing the moment his plane touched down at Erbil airport in the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. Mazrawi had spent several years living in Holland.

That was a year ago. Mazrawi returned to Iraqi Kurdistan because he wanted to come home and he heard things were going well in the region, which has its own military, legislation and government. He had expected to be able to find a decent job upon his return. But a year later he still hasn’t had any success – he’s tried everything because he wants to remain in his homeland. But most of the time now, he sits around, helpless, in his brother’s home. The only thing he wants to do now, he says, is to return to Europe – even though he knows that he will face hardships there too.

Mazrawi is not the only recently returned Iraqi Kurd with this problem. Over the past two years, the local Association of Returnees from Europe to Iraqi Kurdistan estimates that more than 6,000 immigrants have returned to northern Iraq.

“And the majority of them didn’t have a job arranged when they got here,” says Dalshad Aziz, a board member of the Association. “Many of them sold all their property to travel and live in Europe. But often they weren’t able to find suitable opportunities there either so they’ve returned to Iraqi Kurdistan. So now they have nothing – no property, no job. They live with their relatives and hope that something will come along.”

“The lucky ones work as taxi drivers,” Aziz continued. “Even though they may be well qualified and speak several languages.”

“I sold my taxi so I could go to Italy,” says Hussein Ahmad, who spent around US$10,000 to go to Europe ten years ago. “In Italy I did a lot of different jobs. But when I heard that the situation in Iraqi Kurdistan was better, both politically and economically, I decided to come back. But I’ve been shocked because I haven’t had any employment opportunities at all.”

After 14 years living in Sweden, one Iraqi Kurdish woman, who wished to be known only as Jamilah, said that her biggest problem at the moment is that her children are finding it hard to adapt to the Kurdish educational system. “We don’t have enough money to send our children to private schools where they follow a different curriculum – the fees are high and we don’t have any income,” Jamilah says. “So we took the children out of school because they just couldn’t pass their exams nor do the school work. About two months ago I started suggesting to my husband that we return to Sweden,” she admits.

“For those who have spent more than ten years in other countries, especially European countries, coming back here is very different and very traumatic,” one local teacher said. “They need lots of support from the local government because they may quite possibly suffer from depression or other psychological illness.”

Aziz says his Association has been trying to find work for the newly returned immigrants languishing in Iraqi Kurdistan. “We’ve been in contact with international companies and organizations working here to see if they could have some use for the returnees’ language skills. We also contacted the appropriate government departments and we have proposed that the local government supports these people with extra education and subsidized land and payments,” Aziz explains. “There are more Iraqi Kurdish returning every day and we are concerned that if the returnees continue to be marginalized, they may start protesting.”