A New Wave of Migrants Flees Iraq, Yearning for Europe

Tim Arango, New York Times, September 9, 2015

Having sold his car for $4,600, and then some of his wife’s jewelry, and having loaded his smartphone with photographs of his five children, all that was left for Haider Abdella to do was say goodbye.

“From yesterday to today, we are crying,” he said.

His mother sat next to him on the couch, sobbing. “He’s never left me before, from when he was a child until now,” she said. “How can I bear him leaving?”

Mr. Abdella, 42, a police officer, had never left Iraq–never even seen the sea. But last week, he was on a plane to Istanbul, and from there traveled to the coastal resort city of Izmir, Turkey. A day later, he was on a smuggler’s boat to Greece, crying and praying over the phone with his family left behind in Baghdad. By the weekend, he told them, he was well on his way to Germany.

Emboldened by the recent wave of news coverage showing their countrymen and fellow Arabs fleeing the war in Syria and reaching Europe, many Iraqis see a new opportunity to get out.

Their reasons for leaving vary. Some, like Mr. Abdella, who said he was threatened by militias, fear for their lives. Others are displaced from areas controlled by Islamic State militants. Still others are lifelong residents of Baghdad escaping harsh economic circumstances brought on by falling oil prices.

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“I’ve spent all of my life in Iraq in sadness,” said Khalil Hussein, a Baghdad resident whose relatives have set off for Europe. He said he would join them soon, and to raise money, he has sold his wife’s sewing machine, kitchen utensils and an air cooler. “There is no hope,” he said. “I just want to get rid of Iraq.”

The migrant flight is a small piece of the humanitarian disaster unfolding across Iraq, where nearly 3.1 million people are internally displaced. The International Organization for Migration has recorded about 6,000 Iraqis arriving this year on boats to either Greece or Italy, a fivefold increase over last year. {snip}

In recent weeks, the phenomenon has snowballed, as Iraqis track migrants on messaging apps like Viber and WhatsApp and hear back from friends who have reached places like Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel has welcomed migrants and has become a hero to many Iraqis. The stories Iraqis hear from relatives in Europe are often euphoric, and full of possibility.

“When you go to Europe, they treat you well, they give you a house, they pay you money, they take care of your health,” said Ali Hattam Jassim, 37, whose brother recently arrived in Belgium. “We have so many friends there, and they tell us how great the life is.”

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On Friday, Baghdad’s day of protest, demonstrators waved placards bearing the face of the German chancellor, thanking her for welcoming so many asylum seekers. “God Bless You,” one sign read, while another praised Ms. Merkel and called Arab rulers “filthy.”

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