A delegation from Bangladesh's ministry of labor meeting with officials from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Erbil, 2011. Photo: KRG
SULAIMANI, Kurdistan Region – Seventy-nine Bangladeshis have been detained for months without trial in the Kurdistan Region for illegal entry, and now their biggest fear is that they will be deported to Iran instead of being sent back home.
As the police officer clangs open the door to the large prison cell in Sulaimani where they are held, the inmates promptly rise to attention.
“We are waiting for the court order to deport them all back to their country,” says Hiwa Sheikh Ali, head of the detention and deportation center in Sulaimani.
“We have provided for all their needs, such as food and good accommodation,” Ali adds.
In the past several years, due to a booming economy and shortage of local laborers, many foreign workers have flocked to the autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq, among them hundreds of Bangladeshis.
They mainly work for different municipalities as garbage collectors, house cleaners and construction workers.
“I sold my house in order to provide a better life for my family,” says Amjad Ali, one of the detainees, who was appointed by his fellow inmates to speak on their behalf. “Now that they are sending me back empty-handed who is going to answer my family?”
Ali says that he has been held for more than eight months without trial.
“They tell us everyday that we will be seen by a judge, but we now hear that they will deport us to Iran,” he explains.
The Kurdistan Region shares a long, porous border with Iran. Authorities say that illegal workers often cross in over that border.
Ali, whose story is much like those of the others for whom he speaks, says he has done nothing wrong. “I need work. My family call me and I tell them that I am in prison and cannot work,” he says, adding that if he and his friends are freed, they would be happy to earn the money for their passage and return home voluntarily.
Muhammad Atik, one of Ali’s fellow inmates, was lucky enough to work for a few months before being picked up by the police.
“What can I do,” he says. “I am very poor and need work. That is also why I came here illegally.”
Sulaimani police say they have detained 180 Bangladeshi workers so far, and that most were either deported or were hired by different companies to stay and work.
Atik says that upon his detention he had been told he would be deported in three months, but that eight months have passed and he is still held without trial.
“I don’t mind being deported but to Bangladesh and not Iran,” he says.
Atik says that he traveled to Kurdistan to send back money to his ailing mother who “still doesn’t know I am in jail.”
Much like Atik, Shamsumya Muhammad’s worst fears is possible deportation to Iran.
“If they deport us to Iran we will have to pay thousands of dollars and we will be beaten,” Muhammad adds.
“We have contacted the governor and the ministry of the interior and they have told us that they will help us deport them on a chartered plane,” says Ali, the police chief.