Iraq has recently been witnessing an influx of hundreds of Iranians fleeing their country due to deteriorating economic conditions in search of job opportunities in large Iraqi cities, local residents and experts told Diyaruna.
The city of Najaf is teeming with Iranian panhandlers and street vendors who crossed the border to sell discounted goods, while Iranian workers are flooding the city of Erbil, where they compete with Iraqi low-income workers for construction jobs.
Contempt for Iranian workers
Haidar Kareem, a hotel owner in Najaf, told Diyaruna the city used to attract hundreds of Iranian visitors every day as tourists on religious visits.
But recently the number of these tourists has dropped significantly, he said, as many Iranians are arriving to eke out a living -- not to spend money on religious tourism.
"Today, we see Iranians panhandling in the streets of Najaf and Karbala," he said, while the few actual visitors are very cautious about spending money due to the steep drop in the value of the Iranian riyal.
Iraqi satellite TV channel Dijlah broadcast in May a report on the dozens of Iranian women who lay out spreads on the sidewalks of Baghdad and sell cheap rings and prayer beads to passers-by.
The report shows elderly women wearing the Iranian abaya and speaking with a Persian accent as they sell their goods. They refused to talk to the TV reporter, however, and hid their faces to avoid legal accountability.
According to the report, these women have been met with widespread contempt among Iraqis as they work without a permit, hurting the prospects of young Iraqis who seek to work as street vendors.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Iranian construction workers have fled Kurdish-majority Iranian cities and flocked to the city of Erbil to escape the lack of jobs and difficult economic situation in their country, Iraqi construction contractor Ahmad Khoshnaw told Diyaruna.
"Most of the Iranian workers are menial construction and odd job workers who receive lower wages than Iraqi workers," he said.
Sanctions driving economic migration
The influx of Iranian workers into Iraq and other countries with strong economies is a natural result of the economic pressure Iran is under because of the sanctions, said Abdul Hadi al-Rakani, senior adviser to the UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) in Iraq.
Economic pressure causes a migration of human capital to neighbouring countries first, then expands to affect more countries, he told Diyaruna.
The Iranian economy could benefit from the migration of labour with the remittance of hard currency, he said, "which provides it with a vital resource that helps it cope with its economic problems, albeit marginally".
At the same time, he said, this migration could escalate to include the flight of investments and local capital out of Iran, "which would adversely impact the economy".
Protecting Iraqi workers
The difficult financial conditions Iranian citizens are facing is driving them to seek new jobs in Iraq or elsewhere, said Uday Bijai, head of the sociology department at Dhi Qar University.
These workers "exploit the difference in the exchange rate and accept the lowest wages, taking advantage of the ease of transferring money to their countries and the rentier nature of the Iraqi economy", he told Diyaruna.
This could have an adverse effect on the Iraqi working-class, "which is mostly comprised of low-income and low-skilled workers who cannot compete against expatriate workers, who are often highly skilled and charge lower rates", he said.
Najem al-Aqabi, head of the media department at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, said the ministry is working on upgrading the skills of Iraqi workers to enable them to enter the local market and compete for job opportunities.
"The ministry has many vocational training centres dedicated to training Iraqi workers on various crafts and skills to get them into the local market," he told Diyaruna.