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High price of asylum

[Iraq] Iraqi families pay brokers thousands of US dollars to get asylum in Europe. [Date picture taken: 01/11/2007]
(Afif Sarhan/IRIN)

Ra’ad Farouk, 34, has been waiting for nearly four months for his asylum documents. Farouk and his wife paid US $25,000 to an immigration broker, who is now demanding an extra US $10,000 to finish the paperwork for asylum in Sweden.

“I’m not sure about his integrity but some friends told me he has good contacts with the [Scandinavian] embassies in Jordan. We are desperate and will have to pay this extra money. I just hope he keeps his promises,” Farouk said.

“I received many threats in the past months because I was working in the Ministry of Health and for insurgents anyone who works with the government is a betrayer. We sold our small house to pay for this and if we don’t get it we are going to join the displaced families in Iraq,” he added.

So-called immigration brokers are charging huge amounts of money to secure asylum in Europe, especially Denmark, Sweden and Finland as well as Germany, Britain and Canada.

“Sometimes we get it, sometimes not. People who use our services are aware of this and they know that we don’t give their money back if we fail because we have to pay a lot of bribes and we don’t get the bribes back,” said Abu Khudaifa, an immigration broker, who uses a small grocery shop as a cover for this lucrative business.

Increase in Charges and Exodus

Before 2006, Iraqis used to pay less than $5,000 to brokers for asylum in European countries. These days the fees have increased to $15,000-$25,000 per applicant.

“Three months ago we paid $30,000 to get humanitarian asylum in Sweden but after a month the guy disappeared and we discovered he was a fake broker. We lost most of our money,” said Khalid al-Kardi, 41, a pharmacist in the capital, Baghdad.

“But the situation here is terrible and I just sold my pharmacy and my car to get extra money because we think that now we have found someone who can really help us out,” al-Kardi added.

According to the Ministry of Displacement and Migration, about 5,000 Iraqis flee every month but the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said that in some tense periods, the figure could be as high as 100,000 a month. In reality, it is impossible to calculate the right number.

“Most people with not much education usually seek asylum in Scandinavian countries to work in menial jobs. Doctors, engineers, pharmacists and academics prefer Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand,” Khudaifa said.

“At least 10 Iraqis seek my assistance on a daily basis but in the past two months this number has increased to 20 or 30 but we cannot promise all of them that it will work out because the embassies have started to be more selective in their choices,” he added.

The Ministry of Displacement and Migration had no official information about the number of people fleeing Iraq to neighbouring and European countries. The figures that are available are based on statistics supplied by transport companies and embassies. According to these, the number of people fleeing Iraq monthly could be about 5,000 but other sources say the number could be as high as 12,000.

“It is very hard to know the exact number of Iraqis fleeing the country because many of them are also going abroad to get a better-paying job or for education,” said Mowafaq Abdul-Raoof, a media officer for the ministry.

The Swedish immigration council said that in 2006 alone it had received about 9,000 visa applications and Denmark received about 5,000 applications from Iraqis, a 50 percent increase, according to the UNHCR, on the previous year.

According to UNHCR, about 2,000 Iraqis cross the Syrian border on a daily basis with another 1,000 crossing the Jordanian border.

Thousands of others were leaving to other neighbouring countries but statistics were not available.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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