After lunch, the ‘orange men’ are back in trucks. The streets of Duhok are dirty again, so Rahul resumes work at the bazaar. His vest is a marked contrast with the ochre-coloured tide of people that floods the galleries of Duhok´s main commercial hub every day. But even without his work clothes, his dark skin and his sub-continent features would hardly go unnoticed among the local population. That said, he hasn’t had much chance to mingle with Iraqis.
‘Our passports are kept by the company during our three-years stay so we can’t leave Duhok because we can’t cross the checkpoint without our papers’, says Rahul amid the clatter of metal shop shutters signalling the close of business in the bazaar.
‘Not even with our passports can we cross the checkpoint’, chimes in Bardhan, one of Rahul´s fellow bazaar sweepers who says they get a tourist visa stamped on their passports, not a work one. If their documents fell into the hands of a police officer they’d be arrested for being illegal immigrants.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Meeting the Boss
Sitting in his office in the building adjacent to the dining room of the worker camp, Faris Artosh, the owner of Artosh Company, sees himself as a true ‘Kurdish patriot.’
‘I secured the cleaning contract in 2007 because it was painful to me to see my city streets in such a state of dereliction,’ Artosh says. ‘Today everyone congratulates me for my work. I’d do anything for Kurdistan,’ he says sitting beside a large Kurdish flag. On his neat desk lies an ashtray with the logo of ZERI OIL, a network of petrol stations that Artosh also owns. ‘Correct management of our energy wealth and the development of tourism in the region are two of my biggest concerns’, he says.
Artosh is dismissive of the notion that his workers are being mistreated. Regarding the complaints of the sweepers over pay and conditions, he’s quick to blame the contracting companies in Bangladesh for any irregularities. He produces a photocopy of a contract as ‘proof’ of transparency. ‘My workers enjoy free accommodation and boarding. Every six months an inspector comes from Bangladesh and he always says that my workers are better off here than back home’, he says, adding that every bedroom in the workers´ dormitory has an air-conditioner.
Artosh admits that he keeps his employees’ passports. ‘If I didn’t, many of them would try to cross the Turkish border and flee to Europe afterwards’, he explains. But, although he insists that his staff have work visas, he is unable to prove this, stating that the safe where the passports are kept can only be opened by his accountant.
Dozens of muddy rubber boots are lined up along the aisle that leads to the dormitories of Artosh Company’s workers. For many workers, the evening is the opportunity to finally enjoy a little free time. The company’s 150 employees are housed in groups of six per room in dormitories with the small patch of carpet between the three double bunk beds providing the only communal space in which they can sit together and enjoy their great passion on TV–cricket.
But most days, the workers just relax on their bunk beds, with just a draped towel or sheet offering any privacy. The walls beside the bunk beds offer a window into the lives they have left behind: photos of relatives dressed in bright colours and surrounded by lush vegetation; portraits of a lucky uncle, cousin or friend during the Hajj, the obligatory pilgrimage to Mecca; a summer cottage in the Chittagong mountains.
At 56, Naresh is the oldest worker here. Sitting on the edge of a carefully made bed, Naresh says he’ll be here for another three years. ‘Obviously, the job is far from being what I was promised back home,’ says the veteran sweeper as he prepares for bed in the cramped quarters. ‘But I think it’s still better than collecting aluminium tins in the streets of Dhaka.’