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A young woman takes a selfie at the top of the citadel of Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan on September 9, 2019. RFI / Sarah Samya Anfis

A thousand Kurds from Syria have already fled to neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan in the face of the advance of the Turkish military offensive in the north of the country. But on the other side of the border, the situation is not enviable for newcomers: the economic fabric is in tatters and the job market is stricken.

The smoke of the hookahs blurs the contours of the paintings lining the wall. At Molinari Coffee, a group of idle youths hang out with a shisha in their hands. Among them, a boy in Bermuda shorts, red beard and geek tunes, keeps his eyes lowered on his smartphone, whose light is reflected in his glasses. He arranges it with regret to make the presentations: his name is Marian, " but my friends call me Mocha, like coffee ." Mocha hangs out in Ankawa, the Christian district of Erbil, for lack of a better occupation. He spent four years studying computer science, a sector that recruits in Europe, but not here. And since, he galley. " It's been a year since I graduated from university," he says, " and I have never worked in my field of expertise. I did odd jobs, some freelance translator missions but never real work, with a contract. ". Like 15% of young Kurdish graduates, Mocha is unemployed.

An economic fabric destroyed by the crisis

In 2014, the economy of the region was doubly sealed. First, by the arrival of displaced populations from Syria and the rest of Iraq to flee the arrival of the Islamic State group; then by the military investment of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to repel the terrorist threat. The situation worsened three years later, on September 25, 2017, during the referendum vote on the independence of the region. In retaliation, the Iraqi Parliament passed a resolution that same night demanding the deployment of the army in the disputed territories, particularly in the rich oil province of Kirkuk. Resumed in a few days by Baghdad, its loss deprived Iraqi Kurdistan of the revenues of its black gold, a disaster for the region, where hydrocarbons account for 80% of GDP.

In this context, it is difficult for young Kurds to find their place in a failing economy. This is not for lack of qualification. " More and more young people are going into higher education," says Victoria Whiteside, a professor at the Czech Academic City in Erbil and preparing a dissertation on youth employability. This results in an inflation of the value of diplomas. So, even for jobs that did not require it before, employers now ask for it. "

Overqualified and underpaid jobs

Many over-educated young people end up accepting underpaid jobs well below their skill level. Like Mocha or Rawan, his older brother: he is the one who runs the tea room. A bearded thirty-year-old with a pure hipster look, holding a master's degree in law from a Stockholm university, he worked for 10 years as a lawyer in Sweden before returning to Kurdistan, " because it was too cold in Europe ". He opened a bar in Erbil, and then another in Lebanon - both of them having closed for legal reasons, he returned to live in Ankawa in his parents' house. Since, impossible for him to find a job. " There are too many lawyers here, or not enough problems to solve in court," he says ironically. It is very difficult to find a job for all young law graduates, or the salaries are very low compared to our level of education. Rawan speaks seven languages.

Mocha talks with his brother Rawan, owner of Molinari Coffee, in the Christian district of Ankawa, in Erbil on September 14, 2019. RFI / Sarah Samya Anfis

" Before, in Erbil, there was a joke circulating," he says. It was said of a young man who was not in school that he could always open a falafel restaurant. A few years later, the non-graduate opened his restaurant. And the graduate? He serves falafels. "

" We do not have a job center, like you in France "

And to find a job when they leave school, young graduates can only rely on themselves. " We do not have a job center, like you in France ", compares Midia, a young Kurdish thirty years old who grew up in the south of France, near Albi. She is now piloting a youth employment program in Dohuk , western Kurdistan, with the NGO Action Against Hunger. " Here, work is done by word of mouth. We take family, friends, friends of friends, acquaintances, and we find thanks to relationships. This is called the "wasta", nepotism in Iraq. " But since the 2014 crisis," she says, " most companies have halved their workforce. And here, even word of mouth no longer works. "

Iraqi Kurdish youth is also the first victim of the asphyxiation of its public service. " Before the crisis, young people leaving the university were waiting to be hired by the state and become civil servants," she says. The operation was simple : as soon as you graduated, you filled out a form with your wishes. Then, it was enough to wait for the state to call us ! But since 2014, the number of officials has plummeted, and their salaries to match. It takes years to get a job in the public sector. Tired of waiting, most young people turn to private employers, where competition is fierce with newcomers. " Private wages were pretty good before the crisis," recalls Midia. But since the arrival of refugees, they have halved in some areas. The companies say it themselves : "A Syrian will work for less than 20 dollars a day, an Iraqi will ask me 40 dollars. Equal skills, of course I'll take the refugee! "

An influx of Kurdish refugees well accepted by the local population

On the outskirts of Dohuk Youssef, one of these Syrian refugees is encountered. He is a quiet, 36-year-old, black-and-white bearded man who receives us in his work clothes. He is about to complete his professional training at a steel mill. In another life, in Qamichli in northeastern Syria, Youssef was a professor of philosophy. Called to join the loyalist army at the beginning of the civil war, he wore the uniform a few weeks before deserting and went to Iraqi Kurdistan in 2013. He has since been living in a refugee camp not far from the Turkish border. Iraqi.

But here, Youssef had to give up teaching. He works ten hours a day in a small factory in the city to provide for his wife and daughter, who stayed at the camp. He is nevertheless lucky to have won this training, led by Action against Hunger. Not only does it allow him to live, but the natives do not seem to care him. " The arrival of internally displaced persons ( IDPs ) and refugees, like me, has affected the labor market a lot, he admits, even for locals. Yet I never felt any hostility on their part. "

A paradoxical observation that all - Mocha, Rawan, Midia - share. Because for most Iraqi Kurds, who have had their share of war and misery, the suffering of refugees is familiar. Above all, they share a sense of solidarity with those who, more than Syrians, remain Kurds in the eyes of their brothers.