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Human Traffickers Luring Workers to Iraq

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) says it is extremely worried about new patterns of labor exploitation and human trafficking emerging in Iraq. It says some of the workers are taken against their knowledge to Iraq and others are falsely lured there by promises of good-paying jobs. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from IOM headquarters in Geneva.

The International Organization for Migration has just repatriated five Sri Lankan migrants it says had been working under conditions of servitude in Irbil in northern Iraq. The IOM says this brings to 30 the number of Sri Lankans the agency has helped since February.

IOM spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy says all of the Sri Lankans had been tricked into going to Iraq and, once there, forced to work under extremely difficult conditions.

"They are very much exploited - working 16 hours a day, seven days a week, doing menial jobs, domestic servitude and with no possibility of getting out of that situation for several reasons," he noted. "The first one is they are in some cases kept under lock and key. The second reason is that their passports have been confiscated and the third reason is that most of these migrants are completely disoriented."

Chauzy says the 30 men IOM helped to return home were among the few lucky ones who were able to escape from their confinement.

The IOM official says almost all the Sri Lankans had sought employment in the Gulf region, though not in Iraq. But en route they fell victim to rogue recruiters who, without their knowledge, arranged instead for them to be sent to Iraq.

Chauzy says other people, many of them Filipino, Somali and Ethiopian nationals, are lured to Iraq by false promises of secure, high-paying construction jobs.

"In some cases, the migrants are actually promised very lucrative contracts in Iraq and some of the migrants being desperate enough will take the risk and will travel to Iraq to work under contract," he added. "What happens is that obviously the salaries that were promised by the contractor are usually never met."

Chauzy says IOM is working with Iraqi and consular authorities on ways to help these people. But he says the absence of adequate laws governing the status of foreign workers in Iraq makes it very difficult to provide help to these people.