7 Distressed Bulgarian Workers Rescued from Iraq

Diplomacy | October 22, 2011, Saturday // 11:38|  views

Thirty five construction workers, including 7 Bulgarians were "living like animals" in the Iraq capital of Bagdad after not receiving any pay since January. File map.

The seven Bulgarian construction workers who were reported in distress in Iraq's capital Baghdad without exit visas and salaries were able to leave along with 15 Ukrainian colleagues.

The news was reported Saturday by France Press, citing an employee of the International Organization for Migration, IOM.

The 22 were the last group of European construction workers remaining in Iraq. The Ukrainians are already reported to be in Kiev while the Bulgarians have boarded a flight from Baghdad to Istanbul from where they will travel to Sofia.

It was reported in August that the workers were surviving only on food and water brought them through humanitarian aid.

The group included people between the ages of 21 and 56. There was one woman among them. The workers came on the promises of good pay for building facilities for the Arab League summit, but the nightmare began after the latter was postponed indefinitely and the project frozen, according to the Bulgarian news agency BTA.

The 35 workers lived in the top security "green zone" in Baghdad, cramped in 3 rooms without any pay. They have deposited between USD 300 and 500 to land the jobs in Iraq with the promises of making USD 2 000 to 2 500 a month.

After their arrival between December 2010, and February 2011, they were told to not expect anything exceeding USD 1 800 as a wage, but nevertheless, since they lacked any choice, they signed the contract with Noblehus – a company owned jointly by a Bulgarian and a Swede with Iraqi origins. The company became a subcontractor of the Turkish Salar Group, which was the successful bidder for a contract worth USD 38.5 M to build 22 villas.

The workers did not receive any pay since January, 2011. In April, they stopped work and demanded to be given a total of USD 286 000 owed to them.

One of them was quoted saying "they all live like animals" in the 3 rooms with bunk beds, stinking toilets and showers working for 3 hours a day when there is electric power. The workers were afraid to leave the security zone over fears of being arrested since their employers never provided the promised visas.

In August, Vesela Cherneva, spokesperson of the Bulgarian Foreign Affairs Ministry, has said in a phone call to AFP that Bulgarian authorities have raised the issue with both Turkey and Iraq, pointing out the country brought back, in the beginning of the month, scores of Bulgarians from oil facilities in Basra after their Iraqi employer failed to pay them as well.

IOM do not have exact data of how many foreign workers could be in distress in Iraq, but they could be thousands of them, according to estimates.

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Tags: IOM, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, construction, workers, distress, Iraq, Baghdad, Vesela Cherneva, Salar group, Noblehus, Foreign Affairs Ministry, turkey

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