photo: Eddy van Wessel
Monday, October 14, 2013
I am no stranger
It’s been five years now that I live in Iraqi Kurdistan. My house is here. I go on holiday and return home here. I have work, and I am a known foreign journalist in Kurdistan. Yet every year again I have to go to the residency office to extend my stay and get a new residency card.
The office is not my most popular place, to be honest. It is very crowded, and the system does not seem to be meant to help me swiftly, but to give a job to as many people as possible. It takes many hours to get things done and leave with the plastic card needed almost only to pass the checkpoints.
I know that the West is strict too towards new foreigners, but those that can stay legally are treated in a different way. After five years they can apply for a passport, for instance. And after five years they can even vote in local elections.
I asked for a residency permit, or an iqama, for a longer period, and was told it does not exist. Only if I would marry an Iraqi, I could then apply for an Iraqi nationality and be done with the yearly visits to residency office. And perhaps I could apply for an Iraqi passport in a couple of years.
Yet the Iraqi passport is not a popular one these days. Many Iraqi’s try to get rid of it by applying for a European one. The passport hardly allows you to enter any country.
The only possible way would be to ask the Minister of Interior to allow me to get a permit for more than a year, so I was told. But nobody knows what the procedure is.
Going to the residency yearly also means that they ask you to do a blood test every year. Yet I live here, and I go on holiday just like the Kurds – so why do I have to do a blood test and they do not?
When I tell foreigners that I have passed the five year mark, they look at me in awe. Do I really prefer to be in Kurdistan than in a more civilized country like Holland, they ask me. I have to explain it to them time after time.
I do so, with pleasure. But when I have to go yet again to the residency office, I tell myself: this really is the last time. For they do not honor the fact that I am here to stay. And I know I am not the only one with these sentiments.
Come on, Kurdistan parliament, make a law for new residents. Give us rights, instead of hassling us. We chose to be here, against all odds. You should welcome us. Give us the right to stay, the right to vote, to right to participate. Because your country is now also ours.
This blog was published in Kurdish in the daily newspaper Kurdistani Nwe