Notes From Kurdistan

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Risking everything to survive – smugglers in modern day Iraq

Notes From KurdistanNotes From Kurdistan

By Issa Chomani – 

Every day, hundreds of men cross the border from Iran to Iraq in secret, smuggling goods that they then hope to sell at a profit on the black market. They risk everything – arrest, prison, even death in their struggle to earn a living.

The alcohol, cigarettes and illegal drugs found on sale in Iraqi Kurdistan are often the result of smuggling operations from abroad. Shop owners and traders meet up with traffickers in the remote border regions, before bringing back their illegal contraband to the towns and cities of Kurdistan.

According to a report by the Kurdish Press Agency, in 2012 alone Iranian border guards shot and killed around 67 smugglers, wounding at least 40 others. “I have been working for twenty years, but my livelihood has never improved,” says Hussein Razayi, a smuggler in his fifties. “You cannot secure a future with this kind of job,” he explains, “it’s been 20 years now, and I still don’t own a house.”

But the economic realities of Kurdistan mean that men like Hussein are often left with little option but to carry on their illicit trade. “There is no other work”, says Hussein, who regularly brings alcohol, clothes and cigarettes across the border, “so I’m forced into doing it.”

But the problem is not simply confined to the older generation. Qubadi Rahmani is a 24-year-old university graduate who, like many other young men his age, has been unable to find work despite his qualifications. “I looked for a job for a long time, but couldn’t find anything,” he explains.

After two years of trying, Qubadi decided to start smuggling goods into Iraq, feeling he had few alternatives. “We travel over 30 kilometers on foot or on horseback with very heavy loads,” he tells us as we accompany him on his way towards the border. “Sometimes we get ambushed along the way, and have to pay bribes to save ourselves”. A little further along the track, Qubadi urges us to go back, telling us the route ahead is too dangerous. The smugglers continue onwards, knowing all the while there is no guarantee they will reach their homes in Iraq safely.

Photo credit: SEBASTIAN MEYER / POLARIS

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