When Hardi Omer, a 25-year-old Kurdish man, landed at Beirut International Airport, he was very happy and excited – it was his first time in Lebanon as a tourist. He quickly was disillusioned when he saw that airport staff dealt with Iraqis in a different manner than other nationalities.
“I noticed [westerners] breezed through all the procedures and were given a lot of respect,” said Omer. “But we – Iraqis – stayed for about an hour; one officer at the airport asked us to fill out a form stating who we were, where we were going, for what purpose, where were we staying in Lebanon, what our phone number was, and more questions. On the plane going to Beirut, I forgot that I am Iraqi because I was very excited, but the airport procedures reminded me that I am Iraqi, and Iraqis are not welcome,” he told The Kurdish Globe.
Many travel and tourist companies have been opened in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region for a couple of years. They organize group tourism to Turkey, Lebanon, Malaysia, Egypt, and Morocco, as well as health tours for patients who cannot be treated inside Iraq – the health tours usually are to Jordan and Iran.
Hoshyar Ahmed, manager of Kurd Tours Company for travel and tourism, told the Globe that there are three reasons other countries do not like Iraqi tourists.
First, when Saddam Hussein was in power, a large number of Iraqis left the country for Europe and neighboring countries; the Iraqi refugees became a burden on these countries, and moreover, the Iraqis failed to gain a good reputation since some Iraqis were involved in illegal activities such as drugs.
Second, when Saddam was toppled, everybody thought the situation in Iraqi would improve and flourish, but it was the opposite. Iraq became a shelter for insurgents, security was very bad, and again more than 2 million Iraqis took refuge in neighboring countries.
Third, the Iraqi government never defends its people when they are insulted or humiliated in other countries; in fact, the Iraqi government encourages neighboring countries to be harsh with Iraqis.
Ahmed said when Iraqi people complained that the Jordanian authority was harsh with Iraqis at the Amman Airport and before the Jordanian government responded to the complaints, the Iraqi embassy to Amman issued a statement saying, “We told the Jordanian authority to be strict with Iraqis at the airport and on the border.”
Ahmed said he is very comfortable with Turkey. “Turkey doesn’t make any problems for Iraqis,” he noted.
Hardi Omer, who went to Lebanon as a tourist, said, “When people discovered I was Iraqi, they only asked about war, car bombs, and political conflicts in Iraq; they never ask or talk with you about other subjects.”
Imad H. Rashed, executive manager of Shabaq Airline for travel and tourism in Erbil city, capital of Kurdistan Region, said many people in Kurdistan want to travel to other countries as tourists, stating, “Since the economic situation of Kurdistan improved, the demand to travel to other countries increased notably.”
Shabaq is the first company to start group tourism in the Kurdistan region, and it is the first company to open a tourism route between Kurdistan and Lebanon.
“When I went to Lebanon to make deals with authorities and hotels so that I could bring group tourists to Lebanon, I faced many difficulties. I went to 20 hotels and no one trusted me, but after 20 hotels, one hotel accepted the deal, and I was very surprised,” Rashed told the Globe.
“Now, after I took a large number of tourist groups to Lebanon, everybody trusts my company – even the Lebanese Minister of Tourism paid a visit to [the] Kurdistan Region,” he said.
He has pointed out that very limited countries at present accept Iraqi tourists, and many countries think Iraq is not a normal country and don’t want Iraqi tourists.
“I encourage all countries to accept Iraqi tourists, in particularly tourists from [the] Kurdistan region; I guarantee that tourists from that region will not make any problems,” he noted.
In addition, he requested that all consulates in the Kurdistan region distribute visas so people can travel to other countries.
Omer, the tourist, said the neighboring countries and other Arab countries have a love-hate relationship with Iraqi tourists. “They love Iraqi tourists because they have money, and they hate them because they are Iraqis.”