Dreams from a Refugee in Kurdistan of Iraq

CB has interviewed Hakar Ghanem Elias, a student at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS), a refugee who is also working for NGOs

Mohammed: Can you tell us more about your experience with NGOs?
I speak English, my Kurdish is good and I speak Arabic, so the first time refugees came, I applied to work with an NGO, and I got accepted to work with them. Also, the NGO I work with now does some cooperation work with others NGOs such as ACTED. I work mostly as a translator for the NGO.

What is your experience with refugees?
The refugees that I have met do not feel that there is much focus on their issues and their needs. For example, I know some families from Shingal who still have not gotten their monthly payment from the government (each refugee who has an Iraqi ID is supposed to get 90,000 Iraqi Dinars monlthy). I did a research and interviewed four people about this issue, and I found out that based on this research 50% of the refugees do not get that monthly payment. However, the NGOs also try to help and fill the gap, but the problem is that some refugees complain that the NGOs help only refugees who have personal connections with them, so there is alleged corruption. This problem exists because the locals lead these NGOs. Also, there is the problem that many refugees have lost their official Iraqi ID when they had tried to escape the war, and therefore they cannot get the monthly payment from the government. And renewing these Iraqi IDs or creating a new one is very difficult and a long process. And even the NGO cannot give help to those who have lost their Iraqi IDs.

Do you consider yourself as a refugee?
Yes, of course, I have lost my home. I am a displaced person. Even though I am a student at AUIS, but still I am a refugee since I see my family, my friends and relatives have lost their home. I used to have a town or a city. I used to have a normal life. I became a refugee from August 3rd, 2014. Some of my family is living in Erbil and some is living in Duhok.

What issues have you faced as a refugee?
Now the big main issue for employees is that they do not get their monthly payment. For example, my parents, who are teachers, have not gotten their payroll for almost five months. So, if I do not have work, and my dad does not have work, then how can the family live without a salary for five months. And now there is very little logistical aid in the field. So most of the friends I know dropped school and dropped university, and they went to work as receptionists or in factories. And even women started to work because their families have no salaries.
(Note: The Iraqi Government and also the Kurdistan Regional Government could not pay the monthly payment for almost three months, have not been able to pay the monthly payment of their employees consistently, and now people get the salary of July while we are now in the end of September).

Why hasn’t your family traveled to Europe when the situation is that bad?
Actually most of my family has already left and some of them left 23 years ago. I have fifteen friends, and only two are left, and the rest have traveled outside of Iraq. And more members of my family are starting to leave in the next month or so. My brothers and sisters will leave soon and only my parents and I will remain.

But why hasn’t your family traveled yet?
In Bashiqa, my hometown, we had a life that is better than any place in the world and even Europe. We had money, education and resources. One of my cousins, who lives in Germany, came back to Bashiqa before ISIS took our city, and said actually our lives in Bashiqa are much better than his life in Germany. In Bashiqa we used to focus on education and business, and each person had two jobs. I made a survey before ISIS and I found out that 90% to 92% of people in Bashiqa used to be students but also work at the same time. So, life was really great and we did not need to go outside. Now we think of going out because we lost everything. Bashiqa was one of the richest cities in Iraq. But now we have lost everything and we are not sure of the future, so that is why we are not thinking of rebuilding but we are thinking of travelling outside.

The road is very dangerous to Europe now and many die on the way and even when you reach Europe you are not sure whether you get a residency or not, but you still think the best choice is to travel?
Of course. I read a lot about business and politics, and I know the economy is going down for the next five years, and so instead of staying here and doing nothing, you should go there and get your residency or whatever. You build a new life and experience other cultures and build yourself and then come back. So there is no hope for the next 5 years.

Do you feel any discrimination against you as a refugee here in Kurdistan?
No I have not felt discrimination, and the Yiezids and Christians in general have not faced discrimination. But I am not sure, but maybe Arabs have faced some discrimination. As you know in this country it depends so much on which political party you support and so on and so forth. (Yeizids are supposedly Kurds and Kurds feel some connection to them, but Kurds feel less connection with the Arabs since the bloody history in Iraq and especially the suffering that the Kurdish people have experienced by the Iraqi governments, especially Sadam Hussien regime.)

What is your plan after graduation?
Travelling outside is priority, but that does not mean I will not come back. I want to come back, build and help here.

Your final words:
I want people to help refugees more because it is really a chaos, especially because winter is coming. Imagine you are living in the campus and it is raining, and all the sudden water goes to your tent. Also, there should be better management by the NGOs and more cooperation and they should divide the work and the places so that they do not work in the same area but instead reach as many refugees as possible.

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