Fatima Lasay on Fri, 16 Jul 2004 11:45:00 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Hostaged in the Philippines, Escape from Iraq

I was at the Embassy last week, waiting in line, hoping that I could pull
out my passport and original documents so I could start applying for
another visa for another conference. But it wasn't possible - we weren't
allowed to pull out passports during the process which can take several
weeks to over a month. So I just stayed several hours at the Embassy to
talk to people lined up there, which made waiting in line for all of us
much easier. Almost everyone I talked to were getting visas for employment
overseas, the others were for immigration. People I talked to have exactly
the same sentiments as those in Iraq, "If we found work here, we wouldn't
be leaving." Many of these people are women. Actually, maybe I should
start looking for work overseas too because I'm not sure if I can still
keep my teaching post when my appointment expires end of this year. Then
if I really think about it, even if I am able to work here for many years,
the government has no money and no working welfare system so that if I get
sick or when I retire I'd still have nothing. I sometimes wish I was never
born here; I can't believe I'd ever think of something like that. Angelo
dela Cruz went to Iraq to work as a truck driver, and is still being held
hostage. The Philippine gov't has banned Filipino workers from Iraq but
still six of them were able to get into Iraq yesterday. For a long time
now, people here feel like they are being held hostage too and need to go


Date: Fri, 16 Jul 2004 11:30:05 +0800
From: Ben Razon <benrazon@gmail.com>
Subject: Iraqis ape the Filipinos

well, the only thing that's probably more depressing now than the
Filipino diaspora, is the soon to be opened floodgates of the IRAQI

and isn't it ironic how again, America is at the heart of the matter
in the situation?


"If we found work here, we wouldn't be leaving"

-- Sabah Abdul Hussein, Iraqi

The New York Times
July 16, 2004
In Iraq, the Most Coveted Item Now Is a Passport

BAGHDAD, Iraq, July 15 - There is one thing the sovereign state of Iraq
can offer its citizens today, and Iraqis are banging down the doors to get
their hands on it: a passport out of the country.

On a recent morning in front of the newly reopened passport office, bodies
pressed on bodies for a chance to get inside. Pink and yellow files, each
containing a precious passport application, waved in the air, as a young
man tried to climb onto a rust-orange gate to get the attention of the
bureaucrats inside. In the chaos, a sign that hung above the front door
toppled to the floor.

At one point, Iraqi policemen charged at the crowd, wielding batons. A
couple of shots were fired in the air. The line, if it can be called that,
disintegrated and the crowd retreated toward a barbed wire fence before
lunging forward again.

Jobless, rattled, fed up, Iraqis are dreaming of getting out.

"Escape from Iraq" is how Muhammad Kadhum, 26, a college student,
described his intentions. "I cannot live here in Iraq. I cannot feel like
a man."

Zeinab Heart, 24, waiting in black in the already wilting midmorning heat
for a chance to move to her husband's native Lebanon, lamented: "I want to
get out. I want my children to live in a peaceful place."

Wesam Mohammed, 22, who arrived at 4:30 a.m. to claim a choice spot in the
passport line, only to lose it when the police struck, said: "There is no
comfort here. No stability. Explosions everywhere. This is impossible." He
wiped his forehead and said he hoped to go to the United Arab Emirates to
join a relative.

In Saddam Hussein's day, getting a passport and permission to leave the
country was arduous and for most Iraqis prohibitively expensive. During 15
months of American occupation, there was no Iraqi government to issue one.
Only after the Iraqi interim government took control on June 28 did the
passport office reopen for business. It has been swamped ever since: over
500 applications every day, according to the office director, Sabbar Atia.
"Some people don't even need it," he snapped.

This morning, trying to get into his car and leave, he was swamped himself
by a beseeching, demanding crowd. His guards seemed unafraid to use their
sharp elbows.

Someone told him there were people in his office charging a little extra
to process applications quickly. "There are thieves outside this building,
not inside," he said testily. "Please organize yourselves. Stay in line.
We are giving out passports."

The waiting turned out to be good for vendors, at least. A man sold
tamarind juice from a sack strapped to his back. Two small boys pushed a
cart piled high with orange soda.

Today, the fervor with which Iraqis crave a passport, and with it a chance
to escape, speaks volumes about their frustration with the existing order.
At this passport line, one of five in the capital, patience wears thin,
and melts again to frustration. It is a grim portrait of this fledgling
government coming face to face with its constituents.

"It's a disaster," muttered Mr. Kadhum. "An Iraqi disaster." He watched
the chaos from the sidelines and decided to come back another day. He said
he wanted to go to Germany. He admitted it was a dream.

Certainly, not everyone here was applying for a passport in order to
emigrate. Three Iraqi traders were angry at not being able to get to
Syria, where their goods were sitting in a warehouse. A photographer
wanted to visit his brother in Romania. A schoolteacher wanted to renew
her passport to see the holy shrines in Iran. Her husband, a professor of
accounting, said simply, "I want to see the world."

But it was the young men who stood here in the unforgiving, shadeless
sidewalk who were among the most impatient to leave, and it is their
impatience and ennui that presents an urgent challenge to this government
and its backers in Washington.

The unemployment rate here is impossible to gauge correctly, but even
conservative American government estimates put it at around 24 percent.
Reconstruction projects, dogged by sabotage, have so far created 30,000
jobs for Iraqis - far fewer than Iraq's American overseers had originally

Today, in an odd riposte to the trickle of young men who come to Iraq from
as far away as the Philippines to cook, clean and drive for American
soldiers here, a new crop of employment brokers are promising young Iraqi
men a chance to work overseas.

That promise brought three friends, all trained in Iraqi universities to
teach Arabic, to the passport line this morning. One of them, Sami Jabbar,
29, was almost certain he would receive a two-year contract on a timber
plantation in Malaysia. It would be his first trip out of Iraq.

"I am really looking forward to it," he said. "I want to make something of
my future."

Standing at his side were two friends, also praying for jobs in Malaysia.
Fifteen of his neighbors, Mr. Jabbar said, are applying for passports,
just to be able to go abroad to work.

The company making the arrangements for Mr. Jabbar has already arranged to
send 750 men from Nasariya, its chief, Abdul Rasoul Hussein, said in an
interview in his office. In August, an additional 700 Baghdadis, all men
in their 20's, are scheduled to be shipped off to Malaysia. Most are to be
hired as loggers and drivers.

"If we found work here, we wouldn't be leaving," said Mr. Jabbar's friend,
Sabah Abdul Hussein.


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