From Pop to Politics

Stuck between Iraq and a Hard Place | Vintage Videocrat

In Vintage Videocrat on June 28, 2010 at 8:16 pm

Published on GNN – Wed, 28 Mar 2007 12:32:31

Location: Dubai, U.A.E.

Ah Dubai with all its glitz and glam, looming cranes dance across the horizon and skyscrapers puncture the heavens with Babel-esque ambition. I’ve been living here for just over 4 years now and I’ve watched the population swell dramatically: The city is being developed so quickly that it can’t seem to keep up with all the young professionals and masses of Indian labor workers it’s luring in.  Educated Arabs and Westerners from across the globe are flocking to the Paris Hilton of the Middle East to build this desert dream and benefit from the lucrative opportunities and liberal lifestyle. While the foundations of many buildings are still setting, the Russian mafia have already bought out the penthouses. Almost anyone is invited to get a piece of the Dubai pie… But for Iraqi passport holders, it’s persona non-grata.

As you may know, there are no real career opportunities for the people of Iraq in their own country. The security situation is so fucked that people are fleeing in droves. We know by now that over a million have fled to Syria, and around 800 000 are in Jordan. Hundreds of thousands more have sought refuge in other countries. Just a few months ago the UN put out a startling statistic: 1 in every 8 Iraqis is now displaced, which has resulted in the largest population movement on Earth.

Gulf countries are taking a shameful stance: Saudi Arabia and Qatar refuse all Iraqi passport holders. The UAE is beginning to develop a stricter line  as well. And this is where it hit home.

My cousin Ahmed graduated university and fled Baghdad last year to Dubai to join his mother and sister in an attempt to build a future. Although he quickly found work at a local factory out here, he’s had to stay in nearby Oman for11 days waiting for a new visit visa to come through, granting him a legal two-month stay. Visit visas in Dubai last 2-3 months for everyone. Certain nationalities (North America and Europe) can just hit up any nearby border, get stamped and return to the UAE within a couple of hours. They call it the “visa hop”. For educated Iraqis trying to escape the chaos and to work in the UAE, it’s a drawn –out and nerve wracking process.

For reasons that are unclear, his company is having serious trouble sponsoring him to get residency status and so he’s been sent to the tip of the Arabian peninsula, Musandam, to wait for his visit visa application to be approved. Over the past 6 months, it’s becoming increasingly difficult and his waits in this picturesque province of Oman, are becoming longer and longer. After two visa rejections this time around, his mother – who has residency status here- was finally able to get him back in Dubai… For another two months that is. And the process repeats itself until one day, he might not be able to come back at all.

I’ve been hearing about this problem from family, friends and acquaintances for months now. Educated young Iraqis who are desperate for work are being rejected form entering the United Arab Emirates without explanation. Ahmed’s case, it seems, is one in thousands.

“I’m not the only one,” he told me on the phone from Oman last week “ There’s a group of 20 guys like me in my motel. Some of them have been waiting here for months…” I was told that there were almost 200 people with similar stories to Ahmed’s.

His sister and I drove for 3 hours to the border to see him and satisfy his craving for a Pizza Hut all-dressed thick cruster. I took my video camera along and intended to shoot interviews for a story with the other young men stranded there.

Upon our arrival, Ahmed tried to persuade the other guys to meet me. They were all understandably fearful of my videocamera (a lot of Iraqis avoid media for fear of reprisals on their relatives by fundies back home). In the end I was able to interview about 7 of them under anonymity. Their stories were utterly shocking. Here were a group of well-spoken and respectable young men between the ages of 25-30 who all had certified university degrees (one of them even had a Masters) suffering the same fate: although they had found work in Dubai within a matter of weeks, their companies could not sponsor them and their visit visas were getting increasingly difficult to approve because of their Iraqi passports. They are engineers, pharmacists, computer programmers and one architect. All of them have reached the end of the line; their visit visas to the UAE having been rejected after a period of waiting in this remote – albeit scenic- purgatory in Oman. All of them were left with no option but to pack up and go back to where they came from. The message is clear: Iraqis can (literally) ‘go to hell’.

“Dolfie”, 27, is a soft-spoken Basrawi with a Bachelors and a Masters in Electrical Engineering from the University of Basra. His latest ‘visa hop’ has had him stuck in Musandam for 50 days. He came to Dubai in September last year and soon found a job in his field. His company can’t find a way to sponsor him because of his Iraqi passport and although he was granted entry several times before, his visit visa is not being renewed, again, with no justification. The rejection has taken its toll: “I am so upset… I told my contacts in Dubai to not bother anymore. If they don’t want me or welcome me, I don’t want to live in their country either.” He’s being shipped back to Basra this week.

“Dolfie” and the other men had their degrees certified by the Iraqi foreign Ministry as well as the Iraqi Consulate in Dubai. He even showed me the documents. “Is this not enough?” he urged. Certified degrees are vital to granting residency in Dubai- or so the officials say- but for some strange reason, it didn’t help his case. “Do I have to get a PhD too?”

How is it that all of these young men- these educated young Iraqis- are being denied any sort of future in neighboring countries like the UAE? This is especially baffling to me when Dubai is still in the process of development and needs skilled labor in all sectors. The locals aren’t going to build the dream (they are a minority in the UAE), the expats are.

“Yazan” is an articulate 29 year-old with the same story. He was working at a pharmaceutical firm in Dubai for a few months, living in limbo between visas. He told me about his case, his tired blue eyes pleading for some kind of explanation: “We just don’t understand why this is happening. Is there some kind of official policy against us?” Yazan’s efforts to save his young family in Baghdad from living in constant fear and insecurity have been in vain. “I am so depressed. Sometimes I try to cry but I can’t… We are left with no solutions, no choices…” He has no choice but to return to Baghdad.

Are Iraqis being blacklisted? Is the US/puppet Iraqi government putting pressure on the UAE to deny these youth visas?  I went to the Interior Ministry of Dubai to try to get some answers. As I suspected, my investigation didn’t go very far. An Emirati lady in the PR department was kind enough to talk to me for a while. She told me that as far as she knew, the UAE government had issued a new law banning Iraqis who hadn’t entered the country prior to 2004. When I asked her why this was happening, she said she didn’t know and that they just followed orders. For more details I would have to talk to her director, who was conveniently out of the office and never available when I called to inquire afterwards.

Just when I thought my heart couldn’t handle anymore bad news about Iraq, more proof of how Iraqis not only get the short end of the stick, they get beaten into a bloody pulp with it.

“It’s like slow [social] asphyxiation,”  said Saad, a 29 year-old architecture graduate who’s also stuck between Iraq and a hard place in Oman, “ the Iraqi people are being strangled to death.”

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  1. Quite insightful piece, although i have to say that this also impleneted on Iranis and Yemenis (myself). Iv lived in the UAE for 25 years and as a yemeni i am not able to work in semi government companies because my papers always bounce back after a “security” check! I dont have any criminal records or offences and live my life peacefully. Still i have to say my situation isnt as worse as yours because i can still find jobs in the private sector. However it frustrates me that i cant join the high powered government backed companies despite having a Masters degree from the UK.
    Iv considered moving to the west to obtain a passport that will allow me to skip this sort of headache. But its not as easy it sounds!
    I wish you all the best

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