Unemployment grips Basra

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Posted by Sadie from ? ( on Friday, May 09, 2003 at 3:51PM :

News & Analysis

Unemployment grips Basra

Report, IRIN

8 May 2003

As a United Nations vehicle pulls up outside the Al-A'yun Hotel in Basra city it is immediately mobbed by 70 to 80 people waving their CVs at the arriving official, jostling to gain his attention. "Any job, I will do anything," a voice from the back of the crowd rings out.

Within five minutes, 60 CVs are shoved into the official's hand. At the reception desk inside, a pile of others is growing. In the dining area another four piles are stacked on a table. Just across the road, someone else is selling photocopies of a UN job application form.

The applications come in all shapes and sizes - some typed, some as computer print-outs, others handwritten. Another entrepreneur has been selling a handwritten application letter with blanks to fill in.

A man with a degree in computer science and several years of relevant experience writes: "I have written this request to ask for a suitable job - I will work at anything."

Another, with a BA in commerce, who speaks Arabic, English and Russian, says he is looking for work as a driver. A physics graduate wants "computer work, or as a driver, or electrician, or anything". Electrical and civil engineers, accountants, lawyers, economists, computer scientists, agronomists, doctors and nurses, businessmen, petrochemical engineers, fuel and energy engineers - they have all handed in their CVs.

Shuruq says she had worked as a researcher in the laboratories at the University of Basra for five years. She has a PhD in chemistry, but says she would be happy to work as a secretary. She has to survive and has no idea when the university will reopen. "I have no money - I can't buy food or clothes, or meat. Me and my husband live on rice, sugar, tea and bread that we were given before the war started."

Rihab says her family eats meat or fish once a month, or every two months. A computer programmer, she has been looking for a job since 1999. "We have nothing, we eat one meal a day, sometimes two. We are really suffering."

She has a skin complaint, but says going to the doctor is out of the question. Since her family sold their fridge, air conditioner, washing machine, freezer, crockery, furniture, any imported items they had, and her mother's jewellery, there isn't much left to make any money from.

Rihab has thought of leaving the country many times, but failed to put together the half a million Iraqi dinars (US $250) to pay for a passport. But even if she had succeeded in obtaining one, she would not, under Iraqi laws, have been permitted to leave the country unaccompanied by a male relative, and so, as a single woman, she is trapped.

The UN could give women like Rihab a chance to compete professionally. "We are trying to favour women. We are letting them into the building to fill out the forms and hand in their CVs - they can't compete with the guys pushing out there," Charles Forbes, a security officer with the World Food Programme, said.

With reports of kidnappings and the recent killing of a woman in Basra, many females feel too scared to go out, even to hand in their CVs. "It's not safe for women to walk in the streets," says Mahmud Shakur, a lawyer. Meanwhile, neither men nor women know what to do.

People have no idea when things will begin to improve. "There is no news, there is no security, no government, no opening of industries, no jobs, said Mahmud. At least if they knew when things would improve, they would not feel quite so desperate, he added.

-- Sadie
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