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Iraqi refugees airlifted home from Egypt

Latest update : 2008-08-19

The Iraqi government is making its jets available free of charge to bring refugees back to Iraq from Egypt. In the second such airlift on Sunday, some 200 Iraqis took up on the offer.

Jumping into the unknown

Homecoming day is finally a reality for Salah and his family. Two years have now passed since they first arrived in Egypt, fleeing the violence which submerged the Iraqi capital. “How could we raise children in those conditions?” asks Salah, who despite his reasoning, still found it difficult to leave Iraq.

Upon his return, this former member of Saddam’s Republican Guard, has witnessed his country transformed. “The media reports that the security situation has improved. We will see if it is actually true. I am happy to return to my country but, at the same time worry because I am truly jumping into the unknown.”

Iraq is improving, hence it is time to return. This is the essence of the Iraqi consul, Nazar Mourjan's, message. However, this policy does not have precise figures or duration as its objective. “When we have the necessary number of candidates to fill a plane we call Baghdad and the president’s office sends us one of the Republic’s planes,” explains the consul.

Between 70,000 to 100,000 Iraqis are said to currently reside in Egypt and, of those, more than 200 returned to Iraq on Sunday. According to Mourjane, this first-of-its kind operation will soon be expanded to include the rest of the Middle East.

Nadia is happy to leave Egypt. The Egyptian capital has not always been hospitable to the newcomers. “We left bombs in Iraq only to be taken advantage of in Egypt,” she says bitterly.

The savings her family had accrued in Iraq have now run out. Passing through passport control Salah admits, “if I could, I would go to France or to Spain rather than Iraq. Do you know what it means to have to start everything from zero again in an occupied country still at war?”

Only those with the means to do so were able to leave Iraq in the first place. Today only the wealthiest can afford not to return.

In ten years perhaps

There are deceptively long lines at the Iraqi embassy in Cairo. Most of those waiting are not here to apply for their one-way ticket back to Iraq. “Until there is a normal government and an Iraqi administration without occupation, I won’t return. I am not afraid of the attacks but the situation is still quite bad,” says a businessman from Baghdad.

“Under Saddam it was a million times better than it is now,” says a Sunni man wearing a cap embroidered with an old Iraqi flag. ”There is no electricity, there are problems with the water, and the roads and hospitals have been destroyed.”

Fatima El Kotani agrees. Security is better, but Iraq is not yet liveable. After a stop in Jordan, in 2004 the well-to-do Iraqi intellectual moved to a comfortable suburb of Cairo with her 18-year-old daughter, Anssam. She left Baghdad a few months after the death of her husband Najdat, who was killed by American gunfire. “I could no longer tolerate the incessant controls, having to show my identity papers to strangers. I won’t tolerate it. I felt like a guest in my own country.”

El Kotani returned to Baghdad last month where she witnessed improvements but it is only in Egypt that she feels really safe. “Iraqis in Egypt receive their money from Iraq –not the other way around. Those who are now returning simply no longer have the means to stay.”

It is not yet time for Fatima to return. “In ten years perhaps we will say that the war was a good thing if, in addition to having gotten rid of Saddam, we have a functioning state. I want my daughter to be able to study under good conditions. Sadly, in Iraq it is not yet possible.” Anssam smiles and adds that she would rather never return to Iraq, the country where she saw her father die.



Date created : 2008-08-18