More asylum seekers to industrialised countries came from Iraq than anywhere else in the world last year, UN figures show. Many of them left their homeland because of the poor economic situation.
|Iraq's marshes were drained by Saddam [AFP] |
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said in a report issued on Friday: "Asylum applications by Iraqis in industrialised countries rose 77 per cent last year – from 12,500 in 2005 to 22,200 in 2006, according to the statistics, which were compiled from information provided by governments and contained in an annual report on asylum statistics and trends in industrialised countries."
Added to that, Iraqis have been leaving in their thousands to neighbouring countries, seeking safety and better living conditions. Most Iraqi refugees belong to the country's strong middle class. Their departure has been causing serious damage to Iraq's social balance.
On the ground in Iraq, working-class people unable to leave because they are poor and unskilled have been falling prey to militias who enjoy incredible financial power.
Ziad, an Iraqi asylum seeker in Sweden, who did not want to give his second name fearing that it would affect his asylum application, said: "It was a mass immigration. I, along with dozens of my friends and university colleagues decided to leave, because there is nothing to do in Iraq.
"University graduates and professionals cannot be part of the army or police, which are the only jobs you can have easily in Iraq nowadays."
Observers have started to question why reconstruction in oil-rich southern Iraq, which has been relatively stable, has not yet started in earnest. It would provide work opportunities for thousands of Iraqis and a haven for the middle classes.
Muhammad al-Hasan, an Iraqi journalist from the southern city of Samawa, said that high unemployment has contributed to the steady flow of fighters into different militias.
He said: "We cannot say there are no reconstruction efforts in the south, but the question is are they enough and useful? The answer is no.
Oil-rich southern Iraq is known
for its relative stability [AP]
"The government spent millions on rehabilitating the marshes, which were destroyed by Saddam Hussein to prevent rebels sneaking from Iran.
"They did a great job in bringing back birds and buffalos to the marshes, but is this really what the south needs? We have nothing. No pure drinking water, no electricity, no proper hospitals and, most importantly, no jobs."
Official sources in Iraq's southern governorates have said that the delay in the reconstruction programme is due to a lack of cash. The sources confirmed that southern governorates received $400m late last year, which was the first sum received from the national budget since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Muhammad al-Darraji, director of the London-based Iraqi Development Institute, said that the money remains unused.
He said: "We met members of Iraqi government when they visited Britain with Nouri al-Maliki [the Iraqi prime minister], and we asked them about the reconstruction in southern Iraq. They blamed local councils for the delay."
Tension and hostility
Ahmed Zayed, a sociology professor at Cairo University, said the shortage of resources may well push many more people to carry arms for money to support their families.
"When the existence of a human being and his family is threatened, he tends to do anything to keep his head above the water," he said.
"Unfortunately, this case is very common in human history, and it is likely to continue. Warlords know how to play this game. They use their connections to close all doors; meanwhile they keep their doors open."
Ali al-Zubi, a sociology professor at Kuwait University, said: "Definitely, unemployment and deprivation develop tension and hostility. Let us take the suicide bombers, nearly all of them belonged to deprived families. I think that unemployment and deprivation produce the human fuel for terrorist groups."
Al-Darraji agreed with the sociology professors, saying that real reconstruction in southern Iraq would contribute to considerable security and stability throughout the country.
He said: "We are really surprised that nothing has happened in the south. All necessary resources are available there, even stability. If the campaign is to be kicked off in the south, even areas known as hot spots in western and central Iraq would rethink their attitude if they see real prosperity in the south."