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Iraqi remittances: Your stories

Iraqis abroad rely on trust and personal connections to send money to family members who need support. The money is not always sent into Iraq from outside - sometimes people in Iraqi cities are doing well enough to support others who have taken refuge in other countries. Five Iraqis recount their experiences.

RIDHA AL-WISHAH, 21, LAW STUDENT, MICHIGAN, US

I support my uncle and several other relatives in Nasiriyah in southern Iraq, by sending about $200 every month.

Ridha
Ridha on a fishing trip in Michigan

As I have not yet finished college, I send money from my college loans and from my small shirt-printing business.

My brother, who is a pharmacy graduate, also sends money. We send more during Ashura, Eid and other religious holidays.

We give the cash to someone we know, who then gives it to someone in the UAE. They charge a 5% fee, and send it to Iraq.

I would actually prefer do it in a more formal way, but the security situation means there are no Western banks or firms with offices in southern Iraq.

I returned to Iraq recently to visit my uncle and I was sad to see the level of corruption there.

It has the potential to be so good, but they are not spending their money wisely. My uncle will get three hours of electricity and then nothing for the next six hours. Iraqis can do better than this.

MOSTAFA, IT PROFESSIONAL, LONDON

When I visited Basra and Baghdad last year one of my brothers gave me $1,000, because he is doing so well!

Map of Iraq

My brother works as an engineer for an Iraqi company in the petroleum industry, for which he gets at least $1000 a month. He also works for a British company in the Green Zone. This pays him at least $80,000 a year.

There's this stereotype that people are desperate and yes, some people have lost income, but others have really started earning.

However, I do still send money to my mother and other elderly relatives in Basra. I've sent money at least five times this year.

I use the Iraqi Welfare Association; they are reliable, honest people. It is a registered charity, so it doesn't need to charge commission.

It's all done on trust really... but it always works out in the end

I send the IWA a cheque in sterling and tell them if I want it to be converted into Iraqi dinar or US dollars. I then give them the name and cell number of the person I want to receive it.

Once the cheque is cleared, they process the transfer to one of their offices in Iraq. I think their main branch is in the UAE.

The IWA then gives me details of the agent, and I tell my family in Basra to go and find him. The agents are meant to get in touch with the beneficiary, but they never do, so my family chases the agent instead.

It's all done on trust. Some traders delay the handover of money to the relative you're paying. But it always works out in the end.

M OBAIDI, DOCTOR, HERTFORDSHIRE, UK
M Obaidi
Trust is key to successful transactions

Among the people I know, one of the commonest ways of giving money to your family in Iraq, doesn't involve sending money abroad at all.

You find someone you know in the UK - usually a student - who receives money from his family back in Iraq.

You then reach an agreement with his family, that you will give money to their son in the UK, and they will give the same amount to your relatives in Iraq.

It all works on trust and family networks. I'm not sure formal money transfers through a bank actually exist!

LUBNA, NEW YORK

We lived in Jordan for 18 months before finally getting asylum in the United States in September this year.

We used to live in the Dora district of Baghdad, but left when Sunni insurgents started ethnically cleansing the area of Shias.

While we were in Jordan, family members in Iraq and Britain sent us money to help us get by.

My brother used to travel from Iraq to Jordan and give us the money by hand. He did this about five times, giving us a total of $5,000.

He had to bring cash because without residency in Jordan, we couldn't open a bank account there.

Dora is much safer now, but we don't have a house to return to. We'd only go back if there is a real and sustainable social peace, not a peace enforced by the American or Iraqi army.

SAAD, SURREY, UK

During the sanctions [from 1990 to 2003] I wasn't interested in what was legal or not, I was going to send my family money anyway.

I tried sending money through the proper channels... it was a month before my family could pick it up

Back then I sent more per transaction, and more frequently than I do now.

I now send $3,000 or $4,000 every six months. Usually I transfer money to a bank account in Jordan or Abu Dhabi and an agent over there transfers the money to my family in Basra. I don't know exactly how it happens.

Trust is a big thing, if you don't honour it, there's trouble.

Problems seem to arise more on the receiving end, in Iraq - say one brother doesn't share it out like he's meant to. That hasn't happened in our family though.

About 18 months ago I tried to send money through the proper channels: I went through a bank in Dubai which has a branch in Basra.

It was a month before my family could pick up the money. The hassle they had to go through! Everything had to be authorised in Baghdad, and it's all still done on paper.

In general, people don't trust banks. They tend to keep their money in cash.

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