Middle East News
YEARENDER: Iraq's refugee writers scramble for a living in Egypt
Dec 17, 2007, 5:03 GMT
Cairo - Iraqi writers and journalists exiled abroad owing to the poor security situation in their native country are facing the prospect of having to return home to 'save face' because of dwindling finances and poor security prospects, many say.
'People are returning because they're running out of money. The alternative is to extend your hand out and beg,' says Alia Taleb, a female writer and the former managing editor of a Baghdad-based newspaper.
'But an Iraqi would rather die in his land then beg for money in a foreign country. Iraqis return so that they won't be stripped of their pride and dignity,' added Taleb, who left Baghdad more than a year earlier.
Recently, reports of relative stability in Baghdad had encouraged many to return, especially those without enough financial resources.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), has however warned Iraqis against returning home, insisting that the country still suffers from lack of security and services. In addition a UN survey has revealed that two-thirds of those who returned found their homes occupied and so became displaced again.
Like other Iraqi refugees, the writers and journalists exiled in Egypt have accommodation problems because of of strict visa rules endorsed to control the flow of asylum-seekers into the country.
According to the UN refugees' body, one out of eight Iraqis have left their country - the largest long-term movement since the displacement of the Palestinians in 1948.
In Egypt alone, a country rife with poverty and with more than 79 million inhabitants mostly concentrated in Cairo and around the Nile delta, at least 80,000 Iraqis have arrived since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.
Taleb is one Iraqi who knows she has no life back in Baghdad. She used to have a small parcel of land that she sold in order to be able to find a relatively comfortable home in Cairo.
'What do you think made us leave behind our heritage, let our life's achievements turn to ashes? We left all this behind our backs because of our children, to give them life,' Taleb tells Deustche Presse-Agentur dpa.
'We can't find a place in any country, not here or Syria or Jordan. But the alternative is death,' she says, noting that more than 125 journalists have been killed so far in the war-scarred country.
'As journalists, we are targets for all the power-strugglers in the country,' she says.
But it's not only the fear of death that made Iraqi artists, journalists and writers leave their homes, relatives and memories behind. 'And it's not just fear of death that holds us from returning,' Taleb says.
For many independent women like Taleb, it is the notion of being killed 'without cause,' for example for wearing the wrong clothes or bearing the wrong allegiance.
'It is very likely that a woman in Iraq is killed for such petty reasons. If she works in media, she then becomes a direct target for militants.
'I would hate to die at the hands of a nobody who would just shoot me for the way I dress, for not covering my hair or because I drive a car,' adds Taleb, who does not wear the headscarf worn by many Muslim women across Arab states.
Women in Iraq are victims of crimes, explosions, sexual assaults, random and targeted shootings, according to Taleb.
'They kidnap women and girls in Iraq. They rape them. They take them hostages for ransom money,' says Taleb. 'I'd rather die than see one of my daughters suffer any of these things.'
Taleb, like other stranded Iraqi writers, does not have a stable or well-paying job and can barely make ends meet through freelancing and temporary assignments.
'The money is running out. I spent 35,000 dollars in the past year alone,' she says. 'Many editors-in-chief, writers, senior journalists who I used to know back in Baghdad are here in Egypt. They are all without jobs now.
'And we're not young any more. We had high positions in our country. I was a managing editor in my homeland, I would never accept to do small jobs again.
'But how long can I struggle?'© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur