Welcome returnees, don't be scared of them07/07/2012 14:20
by: Judit Neurink*
Holland wants to help asylum-seekers from Iraq who go back to their country voluntarily, with education and money. But only if Iraq agrees on taking people back. Up till now, the Kurds refused to allow for instance the Dutch to send their people back to Kurdistan. So they end up in Baghdad, when sent back.
For many Iraqi's who fled from Saddam, the reason for asylum died with the dictator, as is the impression in Europe. That's why the Dutch feel most Iraqi's can safely go back, and for Iraqi Kurds that often is the case. In that sense Dutch minister Leers has a point when he says that when someone asks for shelter against the rain, you expect them to leave your house again when the sun has returned.Yet, if they have become Dutch citizens, their children are studying in Dutch schools, they should be given the choice.
Kurds who return to Kurdistan, do so for a number of reasons. They have received their foreign passport that will allow them to travel, so they feel they can come back. They finished their studies at foreign universities. They have not been able to secure an asylum. They don’t feel at home in their new country. Because of recession they can no longer find work or income. Their parents are old and need them in Kurdistan. Any of these reasons are valid at the moment.
Again, the group of returnees can be split in two: those who come voluntarily, those who are forced out because asylum has been refused.
For the last group, returning is a painful matter. The people around them expect them to come back from the West with money to spend - instead they and their families often are in bad debts that have to be repaid in some way.
For those who return voluntarily, some might bring a bonus given by IOM to help them get settled again, or if the Dutch deal gets approved in Baghad other financial help. Others have no such funds.
Over the years that I have lived in Kurdistan, I met many people who had problems adapting to the life here. Kurds do not plan, it is difficult to get people to abide by their promises, the ways of life are different without bars and cafes frequented by both sexes and social control is tight. But the main problem again and again is to get a job on the right level.
Jobs in Kurdistan are often related to the government. And as the government is the only one offering a pension, many returnees try to get a job with the authorities. But there are already more jobs then work, so the competition is enormous. New people from abroad are looked at with distrust. Sometimes they are asked: where were you when we were targeted?
Academics and medical doctors who return, especially have a hard time. They bring more knowledge than their colleagues who studied here possess, and many of the old guard regard this as a threat to their status and position. The attitude of many Kurds who finished university that ‘they already know it all’ widens the gap even more. As medical doctors in Iraq do not keep their knowledge up to date – and their Kurdish colleagues from abroad have had to do just that – they see them as a threat and try their might to keep them in the lower jobs where their higher standard is not so apparent.
I have heard of academics that were pestered and discriminated by their colleagues, whose advices were never used and more often even were hidden in deep drawers.
Yet Kurdistan needs new knowledge. It needs to catch up with the world after many years of isolation and discrimination. Knowledgeable Kurds from outside should play their role, and show be allowed to do so.
At the same time, people who returned forcefully will have to be persuaded to pick up their lives in Kurdistan again. To find work, to settle down again.
How to cope with all this? Just a few ideas.
Register those people who return to live in Kurdistan. Offer them information about their country, about job opportunities. Perhaps even offer them a little ‘training’ on adapting to the new Kurdistan. What to expect, how is the culture, what is just not done, when to be careful. What has changed in the past years, what is expected from them. Some of the returnees who have resettled into the country could be used to give them a briefing.
Register those people who are looking for a job, get them to make a promotion letter for themselves. Share this information inside government organizations, and use the returnees when gaps in the offices need to be filled that will fit their experience.
Open a special scheme for people who want to set up a small business. Give them support and advise – here too you could use returnees who have resettled into the country, as their knowledge could be very valuable. These businesses will offer work to other members of the family and perhaps even other returnees. Focus especially on businesses that are common outside Kurdistan (internet cafes, IT-support, advice on education, advice on raising a family).
Next to that, set up information channels to inform Kurds that education outside is never less than Kurdish education. That returnees have a role to play in the development of the country. That more knowledge is better than less. Make special TV programs with returnees, for instance. And make TV-quizzes on knowledge where returnees can show off.
Lastly, make a telephone line for complaints. Those returnees who walk into problems at work or on the society, can report on that. Action can be taken accordingly; talking to their bosses would be a first step. The complaints should be made public every now and again, to show the society what is going on.
Perhaps the Dutch will be persuaded to help, as they are probably going to work with a group of returnees who might be valuable in this sense. Kurdistan should use their knowledge, and stop being scared of it.
* independent journalist.