Expatriate Iraqis in Australia Line Up to Vote as Historic Poll Approaches

Phil Mercer

More than a million Iraqis living outside the country are expected to take part in the historic elections later this month. The first out-of-country registrations have taken place in Australia. There, expatriate Iraqis are expressing optimism as the ballot approaches, despite warnings that the elections in their homeland could be bloody and violent.

Around 40,000 Iraqi exiles and refugees in Australia are expected to cast early votes next week for Iraq's January 30 election.

The first voter first to register anywhere outside Iraq was Nassima Barzani, a 69-year-old Kurdish refugee who lost her brother and 18 other male relatives, taken away during the regime of former leader Saddam Hussein and never seen again.

She says she hopes the election would herald a new beginning for her troubled homeland.

"I lost a lot of relatives during Saddam's regime and all the time I ran away from our country, my town, that's why I want to be one of the person to vote for another future," she explained.

Iraqis in 14 countries, including Britain and the United States, are taking part in an absentee voter system called the Out of Country Voting Program. The program was set up by the International Organization of Migration, a private, Geneva-based non-governmental body. More than a million people are eligible world wide.

There are five election centers in Sydney, Australia's biggest city, and a similar number in the state of Victoria. Iraqis living on the other side of the Australian continent, in Perth and farther north, will have to undertake a long and expensive journey to register, and then return later to vote. The long distances will effectively disenfranchise some of them.

Bernie Hogan, one of the Out of Country organizers, says a lack of time and money is preventing the program from reaching all Iraqis abroad.

"When we found out there was a significant [Iraqi' population in Perth, we asked if we could provide facilities there and we were told no, on the basis that if we opened up facilities in Perth, that the other 13 countries where there are significant Iraqi populations that didn't have facilities, would also make those requests, and that would be problematic for the program at large," he said.

Despite the logistical obstacles, the election is dominating conversation among Australia's Iraqis. At voting centers, there has been a steady flow of people arriving with identity cards and passports, eager to register. Most express hope and enthusiasm, along with concern about the threat to the election posed by Iraqi insurgents.

Zainab Al Hessanya, a 19-year-old student, arrived with her mother to complete her registration. She shares a sense of optimism about Iraq's future.

"Oh, we're very happy to come and vote to make our country more better, a safer place," she said. "No war, no fighting between each other, some government - a good government. I hope that will come true."

The head of the Iraqi Migrants Council, Kasim Abood, says he has been waiting 24 years for this vote.


"It's a historic and significant day for Iraqis living in Australia. Being the first to vote, out of countries voting in all the world, that's a moment I can't describe," he said. "The moment of moments, the day of days, when all Iraqi people have been waiting for this day…It's a historic moment to put our country on the first step of its democracy and stability and Iraqi people look at it as a vote against terrorism and to rebuild a new Iraq for all Iraqi people."

Mesan came to register in Sydney with his wife and three children, eager to make sure his voice is heard. Like many others who fled Iraq during the brutal Saddam Hussein dictatorship, Mesan is hoping for a brighter future.

"I am very happy to choose a new Iraqi government, so I am very happy, my wife also, my whole family," he said.

When asked what sort of future would you like to see Iraq develop?  Mesan responded, "a free Iraq."

Overseas voting runs January 28 - 30, and the vote in Iraq itself is scheduled for the 30.

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs