Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative

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Fake Travel Agencies Cheat Iraqi Immigrants with Thousands of Dollars

Source: ijrda
Baghdad/ Mohammed al-Jbouri
Six years elapsed , Mazin is still travelling between Iraq and Syria in search for the broker took from him 30.000 dollars to assist him travel to Europe, when his family (mother and three brothers) fled Iraq from the sectorial war of 2006.
Mazin’s mother had her fears of the sectarian war of killing her children, so she sold her share in the residence left by her late husband in one of the hot areas.
After one year stay in Syria, her boys met an Iraqi broker, who confirmed that he worked in one of the Iraqi abroad and can manage their travel easily, but as soon as he received the the amount of money, he vanished.
Since then, Mazin took the responsibility of looking for him.
On 2009, Mazin’s brothers decided to return to Iraq with their mother, leaving the worries of travel and rented a house and started looking for jobs to afford them.
Mazin, who started to work in medical weeds after returning to Iraq, said that he was still looking for the broker.
During the passage of time, he was acquainted with many brokers who had some information about the fraudulent broker, he said.
“One day I went to the foreign ministry, which denied the presence of such an employee, where I felt hopeless and the task became more complicated, thus I decided to continue searching till today, but I was not able to meet the broker even in his known places”, he added.
Travel trade, after 2003, flourished in Iraq to flee poverty, negligence and denominationalism.
In the capital, Baghdad, hundreds of travel agencies are scattered with placards denoting the availability of European Union’s visas ( Shingen), where some of them made direct contacts with some European embassies, thus these bureaus became the net that hunts those who want to travel in search for foreign assylum.
Director of Tourism Groups at the Iraqi Tourism Ministry Mahmoud al-Zubaidi stated that the number of tourism companies exceeded 500 authorized companies, divided into 280 companies in Baghdad and 250 companies in other Iraqi provinces.
“The number of pseudo companies in Baghdad reached to 120 with a total figure covering all other Iraqi provinces of 338 companies”, he elaborated.
He added that the capacity of the ministry to close these companies is very limited because the matter is connected with jurisdictions of interior ministry and the law.
“The ministry made a plan to observe border outlets and pseudo companies due to complaints made by tens of people against such companies that indulged in terrorism actions, kidnapping and abusing the honour of the state in the name of touurism cruises”, he pointed out.
Ex-Chairman of Tourism Commission at Baghdad Provincial  Council Issam al-Obaidi stressed that the Commission has incomplete data for the companies working in Baghdad, in addition to shortages in the supervision mechanisms, pointing the necessity to have full names and compare them with the available data to restrict their operations in cheating the citizens.
Hussein, nick-name, is one of the brokers who works in a tourism bureau in Saadoun Street, mid of Baghdad, who disclosed that “there is an agreement with an Iraqi minister to smuggle people in a legal way, by registering the traveller’s name in the official delegation and getting 13.000-15.000 dollars per head”.
“The amount shall be kept with a third party till the operation is completed”, he added.
Deputy Chairman of Iraqi Tourism Association Adnan Dawood al-Qaisi stated that the number of the approved and registered companies reached to0 about 450, which have certificates of experience and scattered in Baghdad and other provinces.
“Unauthorized companies had many violations in fields of visas or cruisers to other countries, but there is no special authority responsible for such violations”, he elaborated.
“We informed the ministry of tourism which informed interior ministry of such violations”, he confirmed.
He added that there is a woman broker that organizes tours to the north of Iraq, as well as transportation company that announces advertisements for organizing tours or selling tickets.
“We are responsible for our members only. When a citizen makes a complaint, we have discipline committee that may decide punishments that reach to closure, but the real responsibility is of the government and ministry of interior and tourism security. Sorry to say that there are no procedures against them”, he added.
He pointed out that there are more than 300 tourism offices are violating the regulations, stressing that cheating is one of their tasks to get foreign visas.
“Some of theses offices work as intermediatory with foreign embassies , in addition to some employees deal with these offices”, he said.
He added that one of the tourism companies collected 750.000 dollars and it was suddenly closed.
Another victim was Mu’wafaq Abdul Hussein who dreamt with immigration after completing the demands of the dealers to travel to Turkey, then to Iran, then to Turkey with another forged passport. After completing three nights in one of Istanbul hotels, he headed to the airport to discover that that one of Turkish passports officers telling him (upon prior agreement with the dealer) that he got a forged passport.
The officer accompanied him to a room to give him one of the two choices, either to leave his passport and return or arresting him. He was obliged to accept the first choice and return to his dealer to pay the officer a some of money to get his passport back.
“All my money were lost. I paid the dealer 10.000 dollars. I accepted to return to Iraq looking for a new job to compensate my losses”, Hussein  added.
Hussein continued to say that he met a person called Mohammed Atiya (Basra province) , who had the Norwegian nationality. This man had a famous name in smuggling for many years. He used to change the photos of passports having EU visas with new ones and gets 10.000 dollars for each case.
In the past, Atiya used to work along the Swedish line, but after Swedish governmental stern procedures he directed his work towards Australia, but this route has its dangers manifested in the sea and expected drowning during the operations which covered, mostly, Iraqi, Irania and Afghani immigrants.
Civil activist Mohammed al-Ali stressed that cheating operation is the offspring of the current situation in Iraq.
He added that the dealer in such work need special convincing abilites, pointing that some offices close their doors after having their fees, pointing that such people are supported by “high ranking officers”.
On the other side, he quoted a story of his friend, Abbas Abdul Ameer, who was learning German to attain his dream to travel to Germany.
“Ameer left for Jordan then to Syria to get the assylum, but he failed to get it. A man contacted him with promises to fulfill this dream for 10.000 dollars, which were miraculously borrowed form his friends, but the cheater collected more than 200.000 dollars and ran away”, he added.
“Ameer is suffering, now, from psychological disorders, despite he filed a suit, but told him that the law does not protect the fools”, civil activist  continued.
Al-Ali thinks that people are prompted to migrate is the lack of work opportuntities and the continued threats by Iraqi militias.
“The youth are the main sectors who think of immigration, so it is, according to available statistics, more than 80% of them are trying to migrate”, he elaborated.
Journalist Amer al-Ma’mouri stated that he used to hear about this question, placards and travel announcements, “but the strange thing that the Iraqi government cannot get visas for its students, so how these companies can “.
“Sorry to say that how Iraqis believe such matters”, blaming the current circumstances for such desires, he added.
Ma’mouri called the Iraqi government to provide work opportunities which will result in curbing such desires.
“Travel to Europe needs more than 20.000 dollars, so if he worked with this sum of money inside Iraq, despite the current restless situation, he can achieve something”, Ma’mouri added.
Parliamentarian source, who refused to mention his name, charged a number of European embassies of organized immigration taking advantages of the current security situation and the increasing desires to immigrate, particularly among the efficient persons.
He regarded the US embassy’s immigration procedures as “dangerous”, which accepted thousands of Iraqis under pretexts of threats and kidnapping.
“The Iraqi government should discuss this matter with the American side”, he added but did not disclose the real figures of immigrations.
The source added that the price of foreign visas with finger prints reached to 12.000 dollars, while other types of visas without finger prints reached to  18.000 dollars.
Lawer Ahmed al-Sultani, member of Lawyers Bar, said that the cheating process should be proved , because the law does not protect the fools.
Sultani believes that cheating has become a phenomenon, calling to amend the legal article No. 456 to increase the punishment to 10-year imprisonment or more to put an end to the frudulence practised by pseudo-unregistered companies, thus, special observation should be made on tourism companies and offices by the governmental and security organs.
Balqees al-Falahi, who works in the judicial system, attributed the reasons for immigration to economic and financial reasons, particularly for the university graduates, who are generally treated on sectoral basses and party affiliations, due to the lack of citizens rights’ culture.
Falahi added that many suits were filed against cheaters, particularly the intermediatories who claim having the possibilities to get visas that convinced many people to deal with them, thus they will become victims of cheaters.
“Surveillance is absent, which mostly follow desires and personal gains”, she added.
Falahi  pointed the roles of the interior ministry and tourism association which depended on the decisions to be taken by the judicial system.
She added that lack of legal culture is not considered as an excuse when dealing with tourism companies or offices, because there are no written agreements between the two sides that will protect the citizen from frauds.
Mazin, despite pessimism, is still looking for his dealer who cheated him with 30.000 dollars, to charge him according to the law or the tribal system.