It was April 10th, 2014 when I left the country. The city of Erbil was stable then. The economy was fine. People used to go to work every day and get paid for what they work every month. The stability and safety attracted refugees. To be more specific, Syrian refuges who escaped the civil war in their hometowns and sought refuge in neighboring countries like Iraq and Turkey. Some refugees escaped the harsh camp life on the boarders to find life in town. The majority of those who escaped were women and children. The most vulnerable. The less protected.
When you head toward the city life, you think of jobs, schools, entertainment and you draw a picture of settlement. The city was unfortunately, not as promising as it seemed to them and they had to face a harder life. Problems that went beyond hunger and cold weather. They did not have enough money to afford rent, which was considered high that time. Minimum rent would cost $500/month. They weren’t allowed to work due to their status in the country. They did not send their kids to school. Instead, they sent their kids to the streets to beg or sell chewing gum, or even wipe car windows by the traffic light. They simply become more susceptible. So many women became victims of sex traffic, and many others chose to die!
While I was still in town. Sometime in 2013 I published a video report on one simple example of those women refugees. Benahi. The 21 years old female who escaped the camp to pursue happiness. The post was under “Syrian women out of refugee camps”. You can find it below:
In my original post I was hoping for ideas to take action. It was more than just a one girl story. It was major community issue. When I visited home last month, I was hoping to see some improvement and change. I was shocked to see even more children in the streets. Children as little as 5 years old. Women sitting down on the curbs by the mosques, schools, or restaurants. Issues like this makes us all guilty. Starting from the government and ending with us as individuals. If we love our cities and care about having civilized communities, we should NOT accept the scene of civilians begging in the streets, or children being abused. As a woman, I refuse to see my sisters out there being exposed to all kinds of violence and not speak for them.
The economy of the region of Kurdistan was tremendously affected by recent ISIS attacks. The fights between the Kurdish Military and ISIS is now on the boarders, yet the city is not as active as used to be. So many commercial exchanges were stopped. Many major foreign investment companies left the region. Salaries are now delayed for few months, if not decreased, and currency value dropped enormously. War causes nothing but damage.
Today, the issue is more complex. If we couldn’t fix the refugee issue in the past when economy was boosting, how can we fix it now when the economy is down?
Call me crazy, but I have hope. I think there is always a way out. I think it is never too late. They say God always gives us a second chance called tomorrow. I see tomorrow with hope and I know it should be a collaborative effort.
So, I decided to take a look at the city as a whole. I went to different places and watched how things are going and how life is operating. I also talked to locals and I formulated questions for myself. What does the city of Erbil, or any other city in the region have? Seems like everyone loves the mountains and nature. It is probably the only thing everybody agrees on. Despite the current circumstances, tourists still visit and go site seeing. Isn’t that a money generating activity? What do these tourists want? They want to try the food, they want to buy souvenirs, and they want to take pictures. If government pays more attention to tourism, which I consider neglected, the region will make more money, the unemployed will put into work, and we would solve a fraction of a problem.
Many beautiful areas are not equipped with resting areas or even bathrooms. Parking is still a major issue and sometimes, especially when it’s picnic season, fights and clashes among locals are pretty common. Create some parking lots, build up resting areas and attraction sites, make the space you have valuable, because it is. All that will improve how the city looks and place some of those families in jobs. They can be cooks, valets, craftsmen, singers, musicians, and every possible honorable work that can bring them income and make the city a better place.
Inside the city I saw some constructions activities, like mosques and schools and I wondered, do we really need more mosques? Do we really need more Universities? If people want to pray there are thousands of mosques built already. According to Rudaw.net, the number of mosques have been increasing to reach 5,337 as of February 2016 (Rudau.net). According to Rudau post, the cost of building more mosques can be estimated to 40 million dollars. Where is the economic crisis really? If the economy is down and people can’t work, where did we get all that cash? Donations? May be!
I am not against more worship houses. I am not against God. I am against the principle of prioritizing things we do not need. There are thousands of mosques in such small area already. If you love God and want to be close to him, you can be close to him anywhere at any time. You do not need another mosque. If Government can limit the money spent on unnecessary projects and start building manufacturing facilities where more people can put into work, we can be more productive.
If you lived in Iraq/Kurdistan during the last 10 years, you would know that we have only been consuming. Nothing to produce, only importing. We bring in what we wear, what we eat, and even what you use at home. If you lived in Iraq or Kurdistan during the last 10 years, look around where you live. Your kerosene heater says made in Iran, your AC says made in Chine, your clothes says made in Turkey, and even your food says made somewhere other than Iraq. Some would argue, so what? Everything in the U.S. is made in China. Well, it’s the U.S. companies that produce in China. China does not sell here by itself. Not that I know of, at least. What does Iraq/Kurdistan manufacture?
I want to take that 40 million and start a project. I want clothes to be produced in my country. WHY can’t we? Do we lack knowledge? Are we not creative and have good taste? NO, we just lack the opportunity. We lack the initiative. We would rather sit down and watch the news, cry and complain than stand up and solve a problem. Can you imagine how many women can be placed into work if we produced more?
Some would say talking is easier than doing. Well, no one said it is easy, but no said it is impossible either. If you think of that 7 years old cleaning your car window in 20 years, how do you think his life would be like if we did not take action today? He would still be in the streets, but this time he won’t be cleaning windows. He may find it legitimate to steal your car. I am always surprised how people complain about their community issues without thinking of what happened few years ago that led all this to happen!
Together we can create a healthy community that is productive, creative, and crime free. If you could link me to anybody out there with ideas on how to make this possible, you would shorten the 1000 step journey I am about to take. I know this is difficult, but I also know it is doable. If you know anyone in the government, NGOs, business who is willing to come up with a plan that can be executed to create more jobs and stability to these refugees, lets connect because your land matter.
P. J. (2016, February 24). Are there too many mosques in Kurdistan? Retrieved May 01, 2016, from http://rudaw.net/english/kurdistan/240220162