Three families displaced from Mosul return to Iraq

Jabbar Salman came to the Kurdish region of northern Iraq in 2005. His father had taken the family to a refugee camp after fleeing Saddam Hussein’s persecution for Shia Muslim relatives. It would be a year before he, his mother and his two brothers arrived in Irbil, and 12 years until they were able to settle in the city.

“Before we could settle down we had to go through many life-changing experiences,” Jabbar remembers.

They lived for several months on and off in camps. The family owned a shop in the area, and the rent was expensive. At 19, Jabbar found work as a tank driver. But the job had a series of deaths in it, and, as Jabbar puts it, “I was so sick from stress… I started a drug habit.”

An ex-convict who had worked as a driver for the Peshmerga in the region, Jabbar was convicted of drug trafficking a year later. He spent three years behind bars. For the past seven, he has worked as a bus driver, operating a bus loop between the city of Irbil and its provincial capital, Sulaimaniyah.

Meanwhile, the family managed to keep afloat by doing everything in their power to keep Jabbar out of jail.

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With a wife and two daughters at home, Jabbar says he rarely goes out. But when he does, he leaves a driver’s license and his birth certificate with his family in case of an emergency. But there were many incidents when he was unable to reach them in the course of his working day.

In the city of Hammam al-Alil, Jabbar, who is now 25, was threatened by five young men who stole his phone, and then beat him up. Another time, Jabbar was called to work a personal errand for his employer. When he arrived, he says his employer’s son was on the phone trying to persuade the elder son to follow in his footsteps and kill Jabbar.

He was also contacted by a friend of the younger man’s. They offered to pay him a dowry, half of which was to be sent to his family in Iran.

Jabbar rushed to collect the money that day. The money was nowhere to be found. There are few jobs in Iraq for expatriates, but he does work as a salesman for several carmakers, and for a local utility company, which pays him as little as $1.50 per day.

The rest of the money goes back to his family in Iran. “We still have our family and friends there,” he says. “They are warm people, and the culture is not as bad as in the city [of Irbil]. They don’t let us do stupid things.”

When he’s not working, Jabbar said he is rarely out of his house, and lives in a house provided by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. With the help of international aid organizations and the Iraqi government, the UNCHR can look after his every need.

“There was no assistance in Iran,” he says. “The families there work hard, but they don’t have any money.”

So it’s hardly surprising that Jabbar would end up leaving his family behind there in 2010. After Iran, he worked in Bosnia, where he says he dealt with many arrests of people like him. He also worked as a guard at a refugee camp. He moved to Iraq in 2012, thinking that with a secure job, he would have more freedom to travel around.

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He is now hoping to get the support of UN humanitarian agencies to let him move to Sarajevo, which he would then serve as a translator and troubleshooter for humanitarian organisations.

There are a number of expatriate Iraqi refugees who are committed to returning home, after years of strife, and now see a better future in the country’s Kurdish region. They want to secure their right to return by registering their country of origin in the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR. They will be required to live in Kurdistan for five years to be registered.

Sajiur Sabih doesn’t believe he will have to wait that long. He wants to give himself a lifetime to return.

“There are people who are 100 years old who lived in Iraq for 50 years, and they’ve never left Iraq,” says Sabih, who works as an English teacher in the Kurdistan Region. “Why won’t I leave Iraq? There’s no reason to live here.”

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