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land of dreams
how and why illegal iraqi immigrants get to australia

Ibrahim al-Jibouri
Along with the UK, Germany and Sweden, Australia is home to one of the biggest populations of ex-patriot Iraqis in the world. And for many Iraqis, the land down under is a paradise on the other side of the world.…
10.10.2013  |  Karbala
Survivors in West Java after a boat carrying immigrants, including Iraqis, sank on the way to Australia earlier in 2013..
Survivors in West Java after a boat carrying immigrants, including Iraqis, sank on the way to Australia earlier in 2013..

Abbas al-Tamimi recently returned home to Karbala after spending two years making his dreams come true: he had managed to get to Australia in 2011, he eventually immigrated officially and today he’s just a visitor in Karbala.

“I’ve just come home to see friends and family,” he explains. ‘I’ll leave again in two months. And I’ll go back to Australia were I can build a real future and where I found my freedom and dignity.”

It definitely wasn’t an easy path to the place al-Tamimi describes so joyfully. “I paid US$10,000 to get there,” he recalls. “Money wasn’t the only thing though. The ocean journey from the Indonesian coast to Australia was a nightmare.”

The boat trip he undertook with many other illegal immigrants took around 17 days. “When we got to Australia I was put in a camp for migrants for four months but I was released after medical examinations and a lot of questioning,” al-Tamimi notes, adding that the Australian migration specialists who questioned him had a lot of “integrity and high moral standards”.

Al-Tamimi’s next step, he hopes, will be to bring five of his family to Australia too. “I’ve already submitted an application to the Immigration Department,” he declares.

It is estimated that as many as 80,000 Iraqis live in Australia. Meanwhile the country’s 2011 census records over 50,000 Iraqis in the country, with most of them living in the states of New South Wales and Victoria. And numbers keep rising – the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship notes that the current population is 30 percent bigger than that recorded during the last census in 2006.

Not all of the Iraqi immigrants’ stories end so happily though. Muhannad Fadel tried to do almost exactly the same thing as al-Tamimi: travel to Indonesia and then get to Australia from there. “But the people smugglers in Indonesia cheated me,” he says. “I lost US$9,000 just like that.”

He had done a deal with a people smuggler where he was supposed to be taken as far as Christmas Island, which is in the Indian Ocean not far from Indonesia but which is an Australian territory. It is a favoured destination for refugee boats from Indonesia. “But all of us were arrested by the Indonesian authorities because the smuggler had given them our information,” Fadel believes. “He did that so he could take our money and not help us.”

Fadel managed to return to Iraq because he was worried about persecution by the Indonesian authorities. He lost all his money but, as he says, he wants to try again once he has enough funds.

Ayman al-Amiri has a similar tale of woe. Al-Amiri owns a factory and he paid an Iraqi who already lives in the Australian city of Adelaide US$12,000 to help him immigrate – he was supposed to get official documents that would allow him to enter the Australian education system.

“But I’ve never received any documents,” he says. “I’m very worried and I’ve lost a lot of money. It’s having a bad impact on me,” says the businessman who admits to being obsessed with getting his money back.

And of course, for some the fantasy land they dreamed of turns out to be less than utopian. Fadel al-Jibouri left Karbala a year ago and after a 16-day journey he was able to enter Australia. He too went to immigration centre and was eventually granted a residence permit. But leaving his family of five behind turned out to be too difficult – al-Jibouri says he felt very alone in Australia – so after 12 months he decided to return to Iraq.

The various stories about Australia and immigrating there, as well as about the dangers and difficulties of doing business with people smugglers, continue to do the rounds in Karbala.

Some still find the stories inspiring. One of those is Nebras, a student who wanted to be known only by his first name. “There are no jobs here and nothing for me here, “he says – so he’s looked into how he might get to Australia.

“I’ve found out a lot about it,” he told NIQASH. “It will cost me about US$13,000 and the trip will go through Indonesia. But there are a lot of dangers – I’m worried about the mafias in Indonesia who take advantage of vulnerable Iraqis and there have also been a lot of ferry sinkings in recent years.”

“That’s why,” Nebras concludes sadly, “I’ve decided to stay in Iraq for now. I think I need some more time to think over the risks before I leave.”