Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Imprisoned, abuse and almost drowned: one Kurd's tale of migration

Erbil, June 21 (Aknews) - It was August, 2008, when Shamal Mohamed, a young disabled Kurd from Erbil, decided he no longer wanted to stay in his native Kurdistan and resolved to make his way to Europe. He had no hope of entering legitimately and so would have to enlist the help of a smuggler.
Shamal Mohammed
For Shamal, it had long been his dream to live in those distant and prosperous lands. One of his brothers had already made it to Britain and many of his cousins and relatives were living abroad. Perhaps they could help him achieve his goal. After all, he was just another Kurdish man who wanted to ride the wave of immigration to Europe.

His journey would be made all the more difficult by the fact that both of his legs hardly function and he can't walk or even stand without his crutches.

He set off by traveling to Turkey legally using his passport. He tried to cross into Greece through dangerous routes and aided by smugglers.

"We set out in a 4-meter long boat with 16 crammed people in it. But the weather was very bad that night, so we had to turn back. As we reached the Turkish coast Turkish authorities raided our place, they [the other migrants] all ran away, but I couldn't run because of my legs."

He was detained and deported to Kurdistan. Not deterred, he tried again, but was once more captured and sent back to his homeland. Still determined to make it through he tried three more times but was repelled and pushed back into Turkey.

Shamal had to spend one week in a Turkish jail. He suffered verbal abuse due to his being a migrant – but others were treated worse, he says, he was spared the harshest treatement due to his disability.

He was only freed after he identified himself as a Palestinian because "they wouldn't deport Palestinians, they would release them inside Turkey and give them an allotted time to leave the county by."

"I was caught up in Istanbul for three months in hiding, because the trafficker lied to us. He would constantly say tomorrow or the day after tomorrow we will set out, that's how he kept us there."

On his sixth attempt he once again attempted to get across by boat. The tiny boat that was carrying him through the treacherous waters wasn't up to the task.

"The boat began to sink. I had a life vest, so I quickly took it out and started filling it with air. But I couldn't completely fill it because the boat was sinking fast so I put it on anyway."

Luckily the Greek coastguard was scrambled and came to their aid, scooping Shamal out of the water and saving his life. He was carried by them to the Greek shore, the shore of Europe. But his troubles weren't over yet.

In a bid to make it to Germany he had to pass through several other countries, all of whom had no interest in allowing him in. He sometimes had to use extreme measures to cross the borders. To get into Italy "I hung under a truck, next to the gas tank. I stayed there for hours and hours before we made it to Italy."

In France, he had to sleep in a toilet because he had no place to stay and was running out of money to complete his journey.

After months of struggle he made it to Kiel in Germany, in doing so he spent $10,000. A sum that could have been used to establish a decent business in Kurdistan. But Shamal was one of the lucky ones. Others didn't make it through in one piece. "I met one Kurdish family from Zakho, on the Turkish border, who later made it to Germany who had lost their baby on the journey."

During the 1990s, Kurdistan was undergoing major political and economic upheavals due to the sanctions imposed on Iraq, and the civil war that tore through the region. Thousands of Kurds started to immigrate to Europe as well as countries like Australia, Canada and the U.S.

These people were lured by the stories of successful immigrants who sent bucket loads of dollars and pounds to their families in Kurdistan, and deceived by the smugglers' tales of how easy it was to reach these countries paved with gold, and how getting asylum there was even easier.

What they were not told was that the journey was a long and perilous one, with the possibility of getting robed, beaten or jailed, or in some cases dying on the road.

Now that Shamal is in Germany with a permanent resident status, he looks back on his days in Kurdistan with nostalgia. "I miss my parents, whom I love so much, and my friends. I love my country and my homeland very much."

"Kurdistan will always stay my country." But he cannot even come back to visit Kurdistan because he has been waiting for a German citizenship and he does not have the Iraqi documents anymore. "I dumped it into the water when I was crossing into Greece."

By Raber Y. Aziz

21/06/2011 21:05

Iraqi refugees detained in Malaysia await deportation

21/06/2011 13:35 Sulaimaniyah, June 21 (AKnews) - About 500 Iraqi refugees - mostly Kurds - currently detained in one of Malaysia's refugee camps, are expected to be forcibly deported soon, says a refugee activist group.

The refugees have been waiting in the Malaysian camp to be resettled in Australia, but have been refused refugee status unless they register with the UNCHR and claim asylum legally, according to the International Federation of Iraqi Refugees (IFIR).iraqi refugees in australia

"According to our reports, Australia has signed a protocol with Malaysia to forcibly deport the 500 refugees by boat to Baghdad," said IFIR secretary Amanj Abdullah.

Malaysia is currently home to 93,000 refugees and asylum seekers registered with UNHCR, among them are 710 Iraqis.

"Australia has announced it will not take refugees who come from a country where there is no political conflict," Abdullah told AKnews. If implemented, Malaysia joins UK, Norway, Sweden and Finland who have been sending back mainly Kurdish refugees in recent years.  The IFIR has warned that some 70 Kurds from the UK are expected to be deported today.

Thousands of Iraqis fled the sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007 before the warring parties finally laid down arms to engage in the political process in 2008. The beginning of the Kurdish migration, however, goes a little further back to the 1990s when the former Iraqi regime waged a murderous campaign against the Kurds . Now, with a relative restoration of order, Iraq has been declared a non conflict zone by former asylum-granting countries.

Refugee Swap Deal

Australia announced in early May that it had reached an agreement with the Malaysian government whereby Australia would send some 800 refugees currently held in its detention centers, to Malaysian camps for their applications to be processed. In return, Australia would take 4,000 refugees registered by the UNHCR.

The Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard hailed the deal as a solution to the people-smuggling trade, by rendering "nugatory what people smugglers try to sell".

Kurdish migration to Australia has exploded in recent years. According to STATT Consulting, a Hong Kong-based global NGO working on transnational issues, over 1,000 Kurdish refugees have arrived in Australia by boat since 2009.

The explosion in migration came alongside government change in migration policies. In 2007-2008, when controls were much tighter, only 4 Kurdish refugees made it to Australia. In 2009, however, 139 Kurds arrived on Australian territories as the government's policy on illegal immigrants softened. The figure reached its peak in 2010 when over 800 Kurdish immigrants arrived in Australia by boat.

During the first three months of 2011, over 340 Kurds illegally arrived in the country forcing the Gillard administration to tighten procedures on illegal immigration and put an end to the flow of immigrants.

Since the government of Australia announced the new refugee swap deal with Malaysia in May, the number of illegal Kurdish immigrants reaching the country dropped to almost zero.

The UNHCR, which had harshly criticized the deal when it was announced by the Australian government, has now backed off, saying the Australian government has made significant changes after the Australian Immigration Minister, Chris Bown, said earlier this month that decisions on unaccompanied minors would be made on a case by case basis.

"These are extremely important protection principles for the UNHCR, which we continue to discuss with both governments," UNHCR said in a statement on Sunday.

By Raber Y. Aziz, contribution by Dilshad Saifaddin