KARACHI: Thirteen Pakistani engineers are stranded in the Iraqi capital as their employer has not paid them since they were hired and neither did he renew their visas.
Irfan Asghar Chaudhry, one of the engineers hired by the Diyar Group to work at a power plant in Iraq, says he and 59 other Pakistanis arrived in the country late last year with hopes of building a future for themselves and their families. However, he claimed the company failed to honour the contract, prompting many to quit and leave.
Out of 60 Pakistanis, 13 are still in Iraq while the rest left for Pakistan after they managed to arrange for their return tickets and penalty for visa expiration. “The 13 of us are those who cannot afford to arrange $1,000 which is how much it will cost us each to leave Iraq,” he said.
Hailing from Lodhran in Punjab, Chaudhry said the aggrieved employees had contacted the Pakistani embassy for help in January but to no avail. “Indian and Turkish employees were taken out of Iraq as soon as they contacted their embassies but we are still here. Our embassy has done nothing except asking us to wait,” he complained.
Chaudhry said the situation has now reached a point where they have no food to eat and limited or no access to internet. “In Ramazan, we were living off alms given by Iraqi people. A week back, one of the few remaining Indian employees attempted to commit suicide in protest.
Chaudhry insisted all of the engineers arrived in Iraq legally, but the community welfare attaché at the Pakistan Embassy in Baghdad, Waqas Ahmed Langah said the mission was never contacted during the hiring and visa process.
“Our overseas employment office, which protects Pakistanis working abroad, was never contacted. The employees were directly approached, interviewed and selected by the Diyar Group and visas had been issued without our knowledge. The Pakistanis also did not register themselves with us when they arrived in Iraq and we were unaware of the entire arrangement until they contacted us with complaints,” Langah said.
He said the embassy is in touch with the Iraqi employer as well as the Pakistani employees and that the payment issue will soon be resolved as per the employer’s claim. “I met the owner, Diyar Majidi, and he promised he will be paying all dues in the next two weeks.” Langah added that the embassy earlier pressurised the company to issue no-objection certificates to its employees so at least those who can afford to leave can do so.
Despite repeated attempts, The Express Tribune was unable to speak to Majidi and his three brothers.
According to Chaudhry and Langah, the Diyar Group is in contract with Iraq’s electricity ministry and the government owes millions to the company. “We have been told that because of the dip in oil prices, the Iraqi government has not made payments to the Diyar Group which in turn has not paid its employees. Majidi, in our meeting, said he expects the government to pay $6 million in the next 15 days and that he will use that money to pay his dues,” Langah said.
Chaudhry, however, is not very hopeful. “Four months ago, the embassy officials met Majidi and he had promised he would pay all dues in two weeks. He had also said that if he didn’t, he would buy our return tickets and pay our visa expiration penalty. He keeps making these promises and breaking them,” Chaudhry lamented.