What do Kurds think of Bangladesh

Disappointed hope for big money

With the promise of a lucrative job in the Gulf region or Turkey, recruitment agencies in South Asia and East Africa recruit unskilled workers. But many of the job seekers end up in Iraq, where they work for starvation wages and without legal protection.

iro. Erbil, February 19th

The tone is rough. "Hey, you idiot, come over here and bring us some tea," the hotel manager hisses at the young Bengali. The young man quickly disappears into a cubicle and serves the sweet tea with a friendly smile. Eight months ago, Eima Mohammed Suheil saw an advertisement in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, looking for workers for the Arab Gulf states. When the private recruitment agency told him that they only had jobs in Kurdish northern Iraq, the slender 24-year-old hesitated at first. To Iraq, where foreigners are kidnapped and murdered, where there are constant bombings? No, he didn't want that. "Kurdistan is like Singapore," the mediator reassured him, "that's where the money is on the street, everyone is a millionaire."

Kurdistan is not Dubai

Suheil was convinced, after all, his extended family urgently needs money. He signed a two-year contract and paid a $ 3,000 agency fee. Seven months ago Suheil landed in Erbil. "I was in shock," he says of his first impression. "It looks like Bangladesh here, certainly not Singapore or Dubai." He shares two rooms in the Nishtiman hotel with 24 compatriots. The accommodation is simple, but the men have a roof over their heads and Suheil even has a comparatively well-paid job. He sells soft drinks in the hotel, for which he receives a monthly salary of 300 dollars, board and lodging are free, so that he can transfer a large part of his income to his family.

While young Kurds from Iraq are looking for their fortune in Europe, thousands of workers have come from the poor regions of the world to the Kurdish state in northern Iraq over the past three years. It is estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 foreign workers and auxiliary workers work in Iraqi Kurdistan. Most of them come from the south-east of Turkey and, unlike the contract workers, can leave the country at any time. Men like Suheil, on the other hand, have to commit to work in the host country for two to three years. They are not entitled to vacation or even a paid trip home during this time. They come from countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines or Ethiopia. In Iraq, the security companies that work on behalf of the United States are the largest employers of foreigners: They employ around 70,000 people who are neither American nor Iraqi.

Empty promises

After arriving in Iraq, the local agents take the workers' passports and, since they rarely speak Arabic or English, let alone Kurdish, they are at the mercy of the local employers. Unscrupulous intermediaries evidently do not shy away from capitalizing on the ignorance of the workers and luring them with false promises. Jamal Mohammed had told his agent that he had found him a job in Istanbul where he could earn up to $ 5,000 a month. “When we arrived in Dubai, it was said that Turkey was not issuing a visa. Then they packed our luggage and put us on the plane to Iraq. "

Like Suheil, Mohammed comes from Bangladesh and like him paid an agency fee of $ 3,000. Instead of the lucrative job in Turkey, he now has a job in a carpenter's workshop, where he earns just $ 200 a month. From this he has to pay off the debt for the agency fee so that he will work for nothing in the foreseeable future. According to the contract, employers must provide the guest workers with accommodation, food and clothing. But not everyone is accommodated comparatively comfortably like Suheil. Mohammed shares a small room in the carpenter's workshop with two compatriots, actually a shed without windows and heating. The door is sealed with plastic film, two rotten mattresses lie on the bare concrete floor, clothes hang to dry on a clothesline, there is a strong smell of urine in the air. To wash, the men have to go to a nearby mosque. Despite his debts, Jamal Mohammed wants to go home as soon as possible. But that is out of the question. Muhammad's employer, master carpenter Zubeir, says he paid the agent $ 3,500 for the three workers. If he let Mohammed go, he would not only have to pay his return flight, but also the equivalent of a $ 10,000 fine to the Kurdish regional government because the broker had illegally brought the Bengali to Kurdistan.

The intermediaries collect

The men and women from Asia and East Africa are in great demand in Kurdistan. Last year, his agency issued 400 residence permits for contract workers, says General Yadgar Anwar Faraj, head of immigration. There have been 200 since the beginning of this year. They work as street sweepers, garbage collectors, cleaners in hospitals, waitresses in restaurants and shopping centers or as domestic helpers. The Kurdish intermediaries often collect a fee of between $ 800 and $ 3,000 from their employers. Although he pays more for a Bengali employee than for a local Kurd, the fee is worth it, says Jegir Ahmed, manager of the Nishtiman Hotel. "The Bengali are frugal and reliable". Like many employers, Ahmed complains that Kurdish employees constantly have some kind of excuse not to show up for work.

The demand for contract workers has not only brought dodgy intermediaries to the scene, but also unscrupulous human traffickers. As in the case of Mohammed, front companies are issuing fake contracts and obtaining visas for Iraq from corrupt officials at the Iraqi embassy in Dubai. Dozens of Bengalis have been stranded this way in Erbil in the past few weeks; exposed without papers or money, some were left with only begging. A Bengal died and a young Ethiopian woman took her own life.

Lawless State

Several hundred women from poor countries are also said to work in Kurdistan, mainly as domestic help, but also in the restaurants and bars of the few good hotels. Similar to some rich Gulf states, women in puritan Kurdish society are exposed to the risk of sexual violence. Neither employers nor intermediaries have to fear legal consequences. The Minister for Human Rights, Yussuf Shiwan Aziz, wants to act now. "We have to pass a law that puts an end to the evildoers," says Aziz.

In front of the hotel in the bazaar where Suheil works, a couple of his compatriots buy phone cards from a hawker dealer in order to call home. The cell phone is their only connection to home, but often they cannot call due to their meager salary. "Poor guys," says the salesman. Others feel less pity. "What do we need these blacks?" Grumbles the cigarette seller next door. "The government should rather see that we find decent jobs."