16 February 2016
IRAQI KURDISTAN: “We’re sleeping on oil, yet freezing to death”
Child places flowers in a lake in to remember the 65 people who
died in the Aegean Sea on Jan 22nd 2016
“We’re sleeping on oil yet freezing to death” is how one Kurdish man summed up the political climate here in Iraqi Kurdistan. War, dropping oil prices, corruption and mismanagement of government funds have led to a financial crisis. As a result, government workers, making up over half of the population, have not been paid in six months.
CPTer Muhammad, a fifth grade teacher, had worked without pay for over five months. For the past month, along with the other school teachers, he has been on strike. Almost daily, instead of going to the school, Muhammad stops by the CPT house and gives the latest news about the strikes.
The other evening Janeh, one of the CPT trainees, called the office saying she had to leave her dorm immediately due to the closure of the college. Professors and dorm cleaning staff had gone on strike and sent all the students home. Janeh lives in Syria and the news left her with many unanswered questions about her future.
Last week several Peshmerga (Kurdish military) blocked a main road in protest of the unpaid salaries and traffic police refused to work for several days. There have also been small impromptu protests in the bazaar.Today schools and universities are still completely closed. In addition, employees running the electrical plants and the city water said they will go on strike if they are not paid.
War has devastated the region for decades leaving numerous political parties interwoven in a tapestry of agendas and alignments with other foreign governments. “I’m a lawyer in a jungle.” said the team’s Kurdish friend Latif.
The flow of money from Baghdad has stopped as the Peshmerga push back ISIS and gain more disputed historical Kurdish lands within Iraq. Yet, the trickle of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from within Iraq has not halted, adding to the deluge of refugees and IDPs that have already flowed into Kurdistan. This, along with the current financial crisis, has led to a mixture of refugees, IDPs, and Iraqi Kurds daring to brave the deadly Aegean Sea in hope of a better life within Europe.
Every few days the media report that, “twelve people died” or “thirty people died” or “nine people died in the sea last night.” Everyone knows someone that has braved the sea. One man said, “As Kurds, many of us have never seen the sea”; for many, “the first time they see the sea they will die in it.” Sadly, this is the reality. NATO announced yesterday it will send warships to the Agean. The situation is so dire for many that they dare to risk crossing the deadly waters with their families and children because they see no other option. It is clear that people are at a breaking point and leaving all behind in hopes for adequate food, shelter and quality of life. It is also clear that they need financial and humanitarian solutions, not warships.
With all this happening, still the sun was shining this morning. On the corner the local baker was baking fresh bread and construction workers were smearing a final coat of cement on the facade of a new building being erected next door. Outside cars buzzed by as taxis pick up passengers heading to the bazaar and points beyond. The city still had electricity, meaning people were working yet another day without pay.
Also, last night, while the city slept, people were huddled in overcrowded rafts somewhere in the Aegean sea.