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Bangladeshi workers in Kurdistan against their wishes: Foreign workers find themselves living in cramped quarters in a strange land.

Byline: Qassim Khidhir

Bangladeshi workers, told by their agencies that they would be working in Turkey but secretly flown to Kurdistan, now struggle to find jobs.

Most late evenings in Erbil market in the city center, foreign workers, mostly Bangladeshis, can be seen unloading trucks full of food and other domestic materials.

The Kurdish Globe, wanting to learn more about their situations, attempted to visit a house near the market where many Bangladeshi workers live, all of whom are employed by a cleaning company in Erbil city.

Upon approaching their home, a young Arab man from Baghdad who is an employee of the cleaning company opened the door: "Seventy-six Bangladeshi workers live in this house and all of them work for the company," he said. "The company pays for the house, and they receive three meals and a shower every day."

Later, however, a Bangladeshi worker told the Globe that 200 people live in the house. He said he needed to obtain his boss's approval before any of the workers could be interviewed. Without giving any valid reasons, the boss refused when he was phoned. In fact, many companies that bring in foreign workers are refusing to speak with the press.

Not far from that house, a number of Bangladeshi workers live in an apartment; they work in shops or unload trucks at the market at night.

Abdul Rahman, 25, from Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, said he worked hard for a long time in his country until he saved up US$3,000; he then gave his money to an agency in Bangladesh to secure his travel to Turkey.

The agency gave Rahman a plane ticket to Dubai and told him: "First you will arrive at the Dubai airport where someone will meet you. That person will then give you a plane ticket to Turkey. Once in Turkey, you will have a job that will pay you US$400 to US$500 per month."

But when he and 20 other Bangladeshis landed at the airport after leaving Dubai, an Arab man was waiting for them at the airport and told them that they were in Kurdistan. "I did not know what Kurdistan was," said Rahman.

The Arab man took them to the apartment in which they currently reside, and told them that they would be working in a cleaning company as cleaners and that the company would pay them US$250 per month.

Another Bangladeshi worker living with Rahman who did not want to give his name told the Globe a similar story. His agency in Kurdistan told him that he would be working for a cleaning company, but he refused.

"When I rejected the work, the agency threatened to have me arrested if I left the apartment," he said.

He stayed inside the apartment for several weeks until he realized the man from the agency had lied and he would not face imprisonment. "If I knew the man had been lying to me, I would have punched him," he added.

Many of the Bangladeshi workers told their stories.

Four workers in particular said that when they arrived at the Dubai airport, as usual their agent told them that he was sending them to Turkey. Instead, they landed in the most dangerous capital of the worlduBaghdad. At the Baghdad airport, no one was waiting for them. People in Baghdad told them that Kurdistan Region was a safe area that housed and employed foreign workers, and by hiding inside trucks leaving Baghdad they arrived in Kurdistan Region.

Ibrahim Rahim, who is in charge of foreign workers in the Kurdistan Region Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, said there are 17 companies in Erbil city that bring foreign workers to the region, and all of them are owned by Kurds. The workers are from Bangladesh, India, Ethiopia, and Indonesia.

Rahim said the government has informed the companies that they should return all foreign workers to their countries within six months. These companies are violating the law, he said, and are not cooperating with the government.

"After six months the government will not renew the foreign workers' permit cards and the companies will be obliged to return all workers to their countries. If they are not returned, the government will fine all the companies every month," he added. Workers who are employed as home servants can stay.

"Already the companies have returned 10 workers," Rahim told the Globe. He said there are around 2,000 foreign workers, mostly from Bangladesh, in Erbil city.

Rahim said foreign workers need to be returned mainly because they lack skills. Meanwhile, there are many local unemployed Kurds in the region.

All of the Bangladeshi workers the Globe met said they don't want to go back to their country because they spent a lot of money to get here.

"It is better to die than go back to Bangladesh, because in my country I have no job and no property. I will not go back to my country empty-handed," said one Bangladeshi worker.

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Publication:The Kurdish Globe (Erbil, Iraq)
Date:Oct 14, 2008
Words:850
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