When Iraqi Men Leave for Europe; Women Are Left to the Unknown
By Maab Bleibel
Souad Kathem, 56, was shaking when she brought up the story of her son. “My son was the only one I had after losing my husband in the 2006 civil war. I was opposed to the idea of him emigrating”, she said. Souad recently survived a stroke that left her paralyzed, after receiving news that her only son had drowned in the Mediterranean alongside other illegal immigrants. Sitting in a wheelchair, she now regrets letting him leave. But after he had survived a suicide bombing she felt compelled to send him into the unknown, where he eventually lost his life.
Shahd Kathem, a 31 year old woman, looked pale as she scrolled through the messages on her cellphone. She looked for any texts her husband might have sent since he left more than a month ago, after receiving death threats for working at the Iraqi Ministry of Interior. Shahd had supported her husband’s decision to leave, fearing for his life, but she said, “I’ve been living in constant fear for more than a month now.”
The stories of Shahd and Souad represent a grim reality. Faced with economic hardship and a deteriorating security situation, young men often have no choice but to hire smugglers after realizing that there was no hope to reach Europe legally. Some 10,000 Iraqi refugees have made it over land to Europe this year. Another 400,000 are making their way by sea. And these numbers are expected to rise to 450,000 next year.
“The increase in suicide bombings, abductions and the ISIS insurgence have led to a deterioration in security. Citizen’s lives are affected by the economic decline as well as the lack of job opportunities”, said Fadel El Gherawi, a member of the Commission for Human Rights in Iraq.
Gherawi explains that these conditions are motivating Iraqis to look for a way out. What they don’t know, however, is that “what they think of as their road to accomplishing dreams, is nothing but their road to death.”
Karim Hassan, a civil activist, believes that the Iraqi government should take responsibility, develop strategic plans and implement development policies to stop the flow of emigrants. Sociologist Hadeel Abed concurs, adding that “the emigration of youth is considered a great loss for Iraq, a brain drain of its most prominent citizens.”
But the problems don’t stop there. Families are disintegrating, thus worsening an already precarious situation. Male heads of households leave their women to look after their children on their own; looking for marriage, young women are tempted into prostitution; deviant tendencies; and child marriage is again on the rise.
Faced with the mass exodus of its citizens to European countries—the Iraqi Passport Department has been receiving around 200 passport application per day—the Iraqi Ministry of Emigration is working on plans to visit Iraqi refugees in Europe and to encourage the rest to stay in the country, according to Ashgar Mousawi, who works at the Ministry.