Iraqis Find Job Opportunities, New Lives in China An estimated 2 million Iraqis have fled the country as a result of the war. A small, but rapidly increasing number of Iraqis is finding a haven on the other side of the world — in the southern Chinese trading city of Yiwu.
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Iraqis Find Job Opportunities, New Lives in China

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Iraqis Find Job Opportunities, New Lives in China

Iraqis Find Job Opportunities, New Lives in China

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Andrea Seabrook.

The refugee crisis brought on by the war in Iraq has reached all the way to China. In all, about two million Iraqis have left their country.

And as NPR's Louisa Lim reports, some are finding safe haven in the Chinese trading city of Yiwu.

LOUISA LIM: At the Baghdad restaurant, the exiled Iraqi community gathers to talk into skewers of roast lambs and big discs of hot flat bread. The television here seems permanently tuned to rerun Iraq's Asian Cup football triumphs.

(Soundbite of cheering)

LIM: This could be the scene in a number of Middle Eastern cities. But it's actually in the southern Chinese city of Yiwu - home to the world's largest wholesale market.

Trader Moussa Anwar is just beginning his lunch.

Mr. MOUSSA ANWAR (Trader): Now, every day, every day, Iraqi people come to China, open their office, do business, because Iraq market is very big, you know? Many people come to China just do a little business, just want to stay - not go back.

LIM: Indeed, the Iraqi Embassy in Beijing says the number of Iraqis in China has increased by 50 percent over the past two years, and most are in Yiwu. Exiled Iraqis estimate there are about a hundred Iraqi trading companies and a thousand Iraqis in the city at any one time.

Mr. NIHAD FOUAD MAJJID (Trader): I make a lot of money, big profit in here.

(Soundbite of music)

LIM: Nihad Fouad Majjid was one of the first to set up here, starting his office five years ago. And driving around in his blue Lexus, listening to Kurdish music, it's clear he's done well. He ships around 50 containers a month to Iraq, mainly filled with consumer goods like clothes, shoes and auto parts. Official statistics reflect an increasing trade. In 2003, Chinese exports to Iraq were worth $56 million. Last year, that figure was $490 million. But doing business with war-torn Iraq isn't easy.

Mr. MAJJID: Every year, nearly about two hundred to three hundred thousand dollar - we lose the money. Somebody take the good, and somebody catch our goodies and call us, we pay money. And if I didn't give him the money, sure they kill the driver and they take the goodies. They sell in other city.

LIM: His trucks are often fired at, he says, and two of his drivers have been wounded as a result of gunfire. He doesn't mince words when asked whether life is freer in a supposedly democratic Iraq or supposedly authoritarian China.

Mr. MAJJID: Iraq, now - not free. I don't feel free. Bombing, kill - big problem. Really, I cannot live in Iraq. China's very nice and free - everything's okay.

LIM: One example is his weekly soccer game, something which probably wouldn't be possible at all inside Iraq. Every week, his all-Iraqi team takes on a Chinese side.

Mr. MAJJID: We have Shia, Sunni, Kurdish, Arabic. Outside Iraqs - no other problem between Shia and Sunni and Kurdish. But inside, Iraq it's problem.

(Soundbite of Muslim praying)

LIM: Friday prayers and Muslims stream to the huge mosque in Yiwu. The extensive Middle Eastern community makes it easier for Iraqis to adapt to life here. Another factor is the relative ease of obtaining a yearlong business visa.

(Soundbite of people selling)

LIM: Behind the mosque, halal snack stalls are doing brisk business. For recent arrivals, this bustling scene is a stark contrast to their lives back home in Iraq, where even going to the market was a risky, possibly life-threatening venture.

Karim Mahmoud says he left Iraq because he wanted to work.

Mr. KARIM MAHMOUD (Engineer; Trader): I leave Baghdad before six months. I want a job because in my country is very difficult anyone to work. You know, it's war.

LIM: He says living in Baghdad, he feared being kidnapped every time he left the house.

Mr. MAHMOUD: Because I'm an engineer and maybe some people thought I am very, very, very rich man. They just want to kill. Why, I don't know. From the money, from anything, from the politic - I don't know why.

(Soundbite of Arabic spoken)

LIM: His new life is as a trader in China. He worries about his wife and children still in Baghdad, but he sees his future outside his homeland.

Mr. MAHMOUD: If the politics in China no have allowed to Iraqi people to stay here, I go back. But if allow me, I'm stay here forever.

LIM: Like the other exiles at the Baghdad restaurant, he's profoundly grateful to China for making his new life possible, even as he acknowledges it's in Beijing's interest to build trade ties with Iraq. He repeatedly emphasizes China's policy of noninterference in other countries, in stark contrast to the U.S. That these refugees fleeing the fallout of America's attempts to impose democracy on Iraq would rather live in this Chinese city is a small victory for Beijing.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Yiwu, China.

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