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Invisible Shackles

When I was invited to contribute the Iraqi British Forum, I made the contributors aware of that the fact that I was not British, well I had not yet been anyway. My application for British citizenship was submitted in May 2009, and while most people receive a response within a few months, ten months had passed and I had not received a reply yet. I did however obtain British citizenship within a few days of being invited, and I do wonder if the Home Office expedited the application to allow my membership of the forum to be uncontested!!

I was born in Baghdad and I lived there for a considerable part of my life and despite living in various countries, I never felt the need to obtain an additional citizenship until the events of recent years. As most Iraqis are aware, it has become extremely difficult for them to travel to most places. I have to admit to a certain amount of discomfort for seeking a British passport but my experiences of late have allowed me to overcome these feelings and while I am aware that these restrictions are extra stringent for younger Iraqis, allow me to share some of the stories and experiences I have witnessed and gone through.

As far as I know, only Lebanon, Turkey and Malaysia have flexible visa requirements for young Iraqis, and these requirements are mostly financial, other countries, such as Egypt, have strict policies against allowing Iraqis of any age and background to enter. Jordan, a country I have recently frequented, has the requirement that the applicant must be a resident of another country, and despite the fact that I meet that condition, I always seem to be the last person through the gates at Queen Alia airport in Amman by a considerable amount of time. The most ridiculous conditions for Iraqis have to be the ones set by the UAE, which I unsuccessfully attempted to visit recently. Added to the standard requirements, the Iraqi applicant must a) Be over 30. b) have visited the Emirates before. c) Be a university graduate!! And that is just to be able to submit the application, and I have known many people who met the requirements, yet were still refused.

That raises the question of the role the Iraqi Foreign Ministry should play in facilitating the travel of Iraqis abroad. It is one of the natural duties of the Foreign Ministry to ensure easy travel for its citizens and that they are treated with dignity and respect, however, unconfirmed reports constantly suggest that it is the policy of the ministry to discourage countries from issuing Visas to Iraqis to stem the flow of people leaving the country, and while that is understandable to a certain extent, these measure should be more specific and less humiliating. For example, after 9/11 the US tightened Visa requirements and security at airports to an unreasonable level with regards to certain countries, and one of them was Algeria, who promptly replied with applying the same measures to incoming US citizens. This tit-for-tat response is certainly undesirable, but it does demonstrate the vociferous protest of countries when their citizens are mistreated abroad.

I am currently awaiting the Immigration and Passport Service to issue me with my British passport, and I, disappointedly, look forward to travelling to “Arab” countries as a British citizen.

2 Comments on “Invisible Shackles”

  1. Layla M. April 25, 2010 at 1:55 pm #

    Interesting article. I never actually realised the extent of constraints placed upon young Iraqis concerning visas. It really is a shame that Arab governments are more welcoming of foreigners than they are of other Arabs.

  2. Shkara April 30, 2010 at 12:05 pm #

    Well said Layla M., and this is an observation that Westerners themselves are aware of, at least those in political and academic positions. It is a humiliating and degrading state of affairs to be in that can only be implemented so stringently by individuals that have no real sense of dignity or self-respect i.e. no “karama” (I am referring to the ease of travel by Westerners and not by Arabs, especially the endangered ones; immigration control is a natural problem for all countries).

    Safwan do not despair at the sluggish progress in getting your passport; even when you get it you won’t be truly British. If you really want to be endorsed as British, once you get your passport you simply need to celebrate by going to the pub!

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