Even when torn by war, Iraq is her only hope. She took a Rs 2.5 lakh loan to pay for her study and her mother’s dialysis.
She has a diploma in nursing, but jobs in India pay only about Rs 12,000 a month. For 26-year-old Sindhu Somarajan from Pathanamthitta in Kerala, the return to Iraq was non-negotiable.
On Wednesday night, Sindhu and three other nurses flew back to Iraq from India, having exhausted the 20-day leave that they got after working for 10 months.
“I couldn’t wait to see my mother. Her dialysis costs Rs 20,000 a week. I have a sister, and my father is now too old to work. I had no choice but to return to Iraq,” Sindhu told The Indian Express over the phone from Nasiriyah, where she works at the Al Haboubi hospital.
“If I had a choice, I would have stayed in India. But I need the money, and the facilities that we get here are not available in India. Every now and then we are told terrorists have infiltrated our area. But we have to stay on.”
Sindhu said the Iraqi government pays for the nurses’ ticket home, and food and stay in Iraq are free. “They treat us well and we are paid Rs 50,000 a month. I am able to send home Rs 40,000.”
Sindhu was among 106 nurses who left for Iraq on August 3 last year. Each of them has a story, and a reason to leave.
Sonia Jomon, 32, left behind two children aged 6 and 3, and an ailing father with her husband and mother after borrowing Rs 6 lakh from relatives. Her husband’s salary typically runs out by the middle of every month. His own parents are ailing too.
Sonia is currently at home in Kottayam, and will return to Iraq on August 7.
“With the money I borrowed, I paid for my education and the recruitment agency’s fee of Rs 1.5 lakh. Given a choice, I would have chosen another country, but my educational qualification is a major deterrent,” Sonia said.
Most of the nurses who go to Iraq only have a three-and-a-half-year diploma in General Nursing and Midwifery. Those with higher degrees go to the UK, US or Canada, with salaries of Rs 1 lakh to Rs 2 lakh a month.
“If I had the means, I would have pursued an Honours degree, but even for a diploma we had to to borrow money. I had done a pre-degree course in 1999, which didn’t have Biology, which is compulsory for B.Sc. My father was a driver, but he doesn’t work anymore. I didn’t have a choice then, I don’t have one now,” Sonia said.
Her father Simon said, “We don’t want her to return, but how else will we pay our relatives back? We are scared when we hear of the situation in that country. But my daughter tells me her place is safe.”
The dangers are real, but there is no choice. The journey to Iraq must be made, and none of the nurses misses the irony. Peaceful India is home, but war-torn Iraq is the land of opportunity.