Ukrainian and Bulgarian Labourers Stranded in Iraq Return Home

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A remaining group of 22 migrant workers abandoned and left in dire straits by their employer in Iraq have been helped to return home following an intervention by IOM.
The 15 Ukrainians and 7 Bulgarians were part of an original group of 217 migrant workers recruited to work on a construction project inside the international zone in Baghdad in December, 2010. They were abandoned by their employer who disappeared after the work on the project stopped in mid-April this year.

Promised a 2,500 USD month salary when they were hired, the workers had only received a few hundred dollars in wages when their employer absconded, leaving them with no means to live on.

After months of unsuccessful negotiations with the contractor to pay them their overdue salaries, the workers appealed for help from the international community.

IOM has been helping them since then by providing food and humanitarian assistance and by advocating for their situation to be resolved with the Iraqi authorities.

This has now led to the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs providing each of the 22 migrants USD 2,000 in compensation and arranging their exit documentation.

However, USD 1,000 was deducted from each of the Bulgarian workers to pay for their plane tickets home as these were not covered by the Bulgarian government. The Ukrainian government paid for their workers to return home.

“The departure of the workers comes at a critical point. They are emotionally and physically exhausted. They had to contend with mosquitoes and deteriorating living conditions especially when the sewage burst at the place they were staying. They simply could not continue to stay here,” said IOM Iraq’s Livia Styp-Rekowska.

The workers had been living on a building site in crowded, dark, dirty and unventilated conditions, without electricity or clean water. Many of them had suffered health problems as a result and were often subjected to threats of eviction.

Although the return home has ended a lengthy physical ordeal for the 22 migrants, they are still owed USD 300,000 in unpaid wages and are unable to pay off loans and mortgages back home. An Iraqi lawyer is now taking up their case in order to recover their unpaid salaries.

The other 195 migrants who made up the original group were either moved to work on another construction site or, under pressure from their employer, agreed to leave the country for a one-time payment of USD 1,000. However, after being forced to pay their transport home and charges for overstaying a 10-day visa, the migrants were left with little to no money.

IOM missions in Iraq, Bulgaria and Ukraine will follow the case by ensuring the coordination and delivery of reintegration services for the 22 migrants where possible.

“This outcome, even if not perfect, has been achieved through the cooperation between various actors, including the government and the international community. It is one of the few labour exploitation cases to have been investigated in this way,” adds Styp-Rekowska. “It has not only highlighted the need for a more long-term response to foreign labour exploitation in Iraq but has hopefully raised greater awareness of human trafficking among both the government and the public alike.”

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