Iraq to fly home despairing Sri Lankan workers

Sri Lankans are among about 6,000 foreign workers in Iraq, most of whom live in meagre conditions.

Baghdad: A group of Sri Lankan labourers who tried to kill themselves after months of begging for food and shelter when their employer went out of business will each be given USD 3,000 and flown home for free, the Iraqi government said on Wednesday.

Despairing because they hadn`t been paid, 10 of the Sri Lankans climbed a building in Iraq`s southern Maysan province and threatened to hang themselves in May before local officials intervened and promised to help. The Sri Lankans are among about 6,000 foreign workers in Iraq, most of whom live in meagre conditions, get little pay and cannot afford to buy plane tickets to leave.

But with about 900,000 unemployed Iraqis, the government has been looking at ways to send foreign workers home to free up jobs for citizens.

In a statement on Wednesday, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the workers would be paid and flown back to Sri Lanka, which they left in 2009 to take construction jobs in Maysan. He also said the government would sue the Talat Hussam-Din Co that laid off the Sri Lankans when it ran out of money to finish the construction project.

"This is a positive step toward completely ending the misery of these helpless workers trapped in our province," Maysan provincial councilman Wail Salman said. "I am sure that this news will bring great relief to these workers who have been begging food from nearby villages."

Elsewhere in Iraq, government officials announced a military raid in the northern city of Mosul that they said killed four al Qaeda suspects, wounded two and detained 10 others during a gunfight with police and soldiers. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to release the information. Mosul is located 225 miles (360 kilometres) northwest of Baghdad.

In Baghdad, a Sunni insurgent group linked to al Qaeda claimed responsibility for a June 17 car bombing in the capital that killed two aides to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shi’ite. The statement by Ansar al-Islam said the two men were killed because they handled execution orders against terror suspects. But Shi’ite lawmaker and close al-Maliki adviser Hassan al-Sineid said they were merely office workers who "were targeted by terrorism because they were using a governmental car”.

Also on Wednesday, the UN children`s agency, UNICEF, reported that the number of children killed in attacks in Iraq appeared to be declining. But a UNICEF statement urged authorities to fight what it called "indiscriminate violence that continues to violate the rights of children in Iraq”.

UNICEF data show at least 194 children were killed and 232 wounded in Iraq in 2010, the latest figures available. In 2009, UNICEF said the Iraqi government reported 362 children were killed and 1,044 wounded. The year before that, in 2008, 376 children died and 1,594 injured in attacks, UNICEF said.

Bureau Report

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