International Politics

Fleeing Chinese Workers in Iraq Fail to Reach Baghdad


Smoke billows from an area controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) between the Iraqi towns of Naojul and Tuz Khurmatu, both located north of the capital Baghdad, on June 26

Photograph by Karim Sahib/AFP via Getty Images

Smoke billows from an area controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) between the Iraqi towns of Naojul and Tuz Khurmatu, both located north of the capital Baghdad, on June 26

The security situation facing some of the more than 10,000 Chinese in Iraq is looking ever more precarious. More than 1,300 Chinese working on the construction of a power plant in northern Iraq have been stranded at the site because of fighting, Chinese media have reported over the last couple of weeks. Now, new details about their predicament have emerged.

A number of the workers have attempted to reach Baghdad, but the buses they were riding had to turn back, reported Caixin today. At least one of the buses in a convoy carrying the Chinese reached the outskirts of the capital before being stopped by government soldiers and had to return to the construction site, according to the son of one of the workers, reported the Beijing-based financial publication.

“Not a single one has managed to reach Baghdad,” said one woman who spoke by phone with her husband, who works at the site in Samarra. The project is managed by Hong Kong-listed China Machinery Engineering, but most of the Chinese working there have been hired by Chinese subcontractors.

When family members of the workers called CMEC’s headquarters in Beijing, they were told the company’s “managers are there, too, and we should stop worrying and wait for updates,” the woman told Caixin. Meanwhile, the Chinese embassy in Baghdad said it was “not convenient to disclose information regarding the incident.”

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson today said the Chinese embassy is working with the Iraqi government to ensure the security of the workers. “We are in smooth communication and cooperation,” said spokesperson Hua Chunying at a regular press briefing in Beijing, reported the official Xinhua News Agency. “But I cannot provide more details about the arrangements of the evacuation at the moment due to security considerations,” she added.

Hua said earlier there are about 10,000 Chinese workers in Iraq, but only a small number are in dangerous parts of the country. “The Chinese government is paying high attention to the safety of Chinese workers and companies in Iraq, and will spare no efforts to ensure the evacuation is conducted in a safe, orderly, and timely way,” she said.

Dexter_roberts
Roberts is Bloomberg Businessweek's Asia News Editor and China bureau chief. Follow him on Twitter @dtiffroberts.

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