Homeless Nepalese in Baghdad are victims of trafficking
A group of Nepalese men living rough near Baghdad airport in the hope of finding work at a US military base are victims of human trafficking, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said yesterday.
The Geneva-based body is also looking into the case of another 1,000 workers from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India and Nepal who were kept in three, drab warehouses in the airport zone for up to three months by a subcontractor to Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR), a service provider to US forces.
“I am very much worried because we have been highlighting this problem for some time,” Rafiq Tschannen, the IOM’s Chief of Mission to Iraq, told The Times.
These eight people live in the small shack behind them
The 58 Nepalese men and a handful of Indians were brought in by agents in their home country who took about 5,000 dollars off each person in exchange for flights to Baghdad and the promise of work, which never materialized.
Instead the agents disappeared and the men have been forced to live for weeks in makeshift shelters of wooden planks, cardboard and blankets. They survive on food and water donated by passing Iraqis and fellow migrants who have jobs.
“These are trafficking cases,” Mr Tschannen said. “It looks like they have been smuggled into the country in the hope that KBR would pick them up.”
Two men cook rice donated by sympathetic passers-by
The IOM provided eight of the destitute Nepalese men with plane tickets home and is ready to help more, although some have found work in the secured airport zone, which is home to a large US military base and a number of other entities.
A lack of funds, however, means the IOM is unable to assist larger groups of migrant workers such as the 1,000 men in the warehouses who were brought to Iraq, also by agents, to work for Najlaa International Catering Services, a Kuwait-based subcontractor to KBR.
These men were left in an overcrowded warehouse compound with poor food, broken toilets and no salary after contracts, anticipated by Najlaa, to provide catering services at US military dining halls fell through.
Mr Tschannen said cases of human trafficking by agents are common place throughout the world, with many migrant workers choosing to travel to European shores on the promise of employment only to end up jobless and penniless.
About 20 people are living rough under this shelter
The prospect of a salary of up to 800 dollars a month, a good wage in their home country, entices thousand of Asian workers to risk the perils of war and come to Iraq. They provide a range of services at US bases, such as catering and laundry, freeing up soldiers to concentrate on other tasks.
One Nepalese man sits in his makeshift home
Mr Tschannen said the migrant workforce is just “like any other commodity”. Agents bring in excess numbers, he explained, to be able to provide firms with labour instantaneously rather then having to wait to fly them in from overseas.
“These people should only be brought in when they have the final contract from the people who will be using them,” he said.
He plans to report the case of the in the warehouses to IOM headquarters in the hope of being able to encourage donor countries to offer funds to help such people, while noting that it was ultimately the responsibility of the contractor.
The best option would be to give each person trafficked to Iraq, but unable to find work, a ticket home and extra money to erase any debts incurred paying an agent to travel to Baghdad in the first place. This money would also help a person to reintegrate into his community, Mr Tschannen added.