In Iraq, a fervour for Germany
Baghdad - Flights from Iraq to Turkey are fully booked. There is a shortage of backpacks. Garage sales are on the rise. Advertisements for vacant apartments and used cars splash the pages of tabloids.
It is not Iraqis preparing for another war but a fervour to escape hardships for a better life in Germany and elsewhere across Europe gripping the country’s nearly 34 million people.
“What’s here to stay for? Explosions, violence and bloodshed?” wondered Baghdad taxi driver Ali Abbas, 26, who holds a bachelor’s degree in nuclear physics.
“I stayed home for two years after graduating because there were no jobs out there so I had to drive a cab to fill my time and make money,” Abbas said. He was booked on a flight to Turkey on October 4th en route to Germany, where he may follow his elder brother Haidar to Sweden.
“But I’m not staying in this pit-hole,” Abbas said.
Iraq’s Ministry of Migration and Displaced reported that an average of 500 Iraqis were flying to Turkey daily en route to Europe. On September 1st, however, the number jumped to 1,400, the ministry said, without elaborating.
Civil aviation authorities say, however, there was an average of 3,000 Iraqis leaving to Turkey every day since late August. Citing internal records, the authorities said the bulk of the passengers identify themselves as university graduates and professionals going for tourism.
“But most of them don’t return home,” an official said, insisting on anonymity because he was not allowed to speak to the media. He said the Iraqis are of various ethnic and religious backgrounds, including Sunnis and Shias.
Airline officials reported that the number of Turkey-bound daily flights jumped from seven to 15 since early September.
The emigration has alarmed Iraq’s predominantly Shia government, which is anxious that the country’s demographic balance could be disturbed. Shias are needed in army, police and other security posts to defend their shrines against the threat of the Islamic State (ISIS) militants, who adhere to a militant Sunni doctrine that considers other Muslims who do not follow their line of thinking as “infidels”.
A government-sponsored campaign saw newspaper ads and television talk shows warning against “treacherous” adventures in the rough seas of the Mediterranean during the autumn.
“Dear citizen, why should you risk your life and that of your children?” beam TV warnings, showing images of drowned Iraqis and Syrians on European shores with a background of patriotic music.
The fervour even spread to Facebook and other social media networks where many young Iraqis replaced their profile pictures with a slogan that reads: “I’m Iraqi; I’m against emigrating.”
The commotion drew reaction from clergymen. Renowned preacher Abdel Mahdi al-Karbalai warned in an Eid al-Adha sermon that “putting one’s self at risk intentionally is against Allah’s teachings”. Influential Shia clergyman Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, however, issued a fatwa sanctioning migration “as long as it did not violate or alter the facets of the religion”.
Lawmakers hold the government responsible, blaming the emigration on deteriorating living conditions and rising unemployment, estimated at 7 million across Iraq, including 1.5 million university graduates in Baghdad.
“The government is to blame for this complex and serious situation,” MP Mohammed Naji of the Iraqi National Coalition said in an interview.
“Desperate young Iraqis, faced with sectarian violence, ISIS and lack of jobs, are finding it increasingly attractive to leave their country looking for better opportunities abroad,” Naji said.
“Appropriate solutions addressing unemployment among the youth must be found immediately to resolve this quandary.”
Iraqi researcher Salah Ghareeb said the plight of Iraqi youth came to the limelight when many army and police conscripts, as well as members of the armed popular militias, “took off their uniform and joined other Iraqis fleeing hardships in the country”. “There are tens of cases of young Shia security men deserting their posts and troubles behind,” he said.
Hosam Eddine, 24, a corporal who deserted his army post in the ISIS-controlled desert of Anbar province in early September, said he was moved by images of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s passionate appeal to Western nations to take in more refugees — a move that opened Germany’s floodgates to migrants. “She looked like a sweet mother afraid for her children,” Hosam Eddine said. He said he has since bought waterproof backpacks for his wife and two children in preparation for leaving to a new home in Germany.
“Merkel, here we come,” he said.