Off The Grid with Luke Coleman

Our Man in Iraq

It’s difficult to know where to start, isn’t it? The whole idea of this column, when the editor asked me to send monthly dispatches from Iraq, was to paint a picture of a place I felt was misunderstood. I’d only been living there 9 months or so, but was clear in my mind that my preconceptions of life in the more fractious areas of the Middle East was wrong. The vast majority of people were unfailingly welcoming, wanted to share experiences and were proud of their country.

Syria spiralled out of control and as refugees sought peace in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, my correspondence had to focus on the sadness. I wrote about our efforts to get food packages together for the 70 or so families that had found themselves in Erbil in late 2012. A year later I outlined the amazing work of RISE Foundation, where I volunteered to put on Disney cinema nights for kids at Arbat Camp, further east.

Last August several of us aimlessly handed out all the water we could buy to Yazidis and Christians displaced by the encroaching hell of Islamic State. I’ve tried to scatter daft stories of paragliding near Mosul and skiing on the Iranian border, but life in Iraqi Kurdistan is permanently coloured by the war all around us.

The latest layers of misery are the civil war being fought on the streets of Kurdish towns in Turkey, and the refugees seeking help in Europe. I don’t want to preach, but it most likely sounds like I am. But I want to be clear about one thing, something you’ll have heard before.

These people are not coming to Europe to live on benefits and exploit a system that frankly doesn’t exist outside of the fevered nightmares of unthinking UKIPers and the like. They are running to make a better lives for themselves, and that has been proven to improve the economies of the countries with the foresight to allow them in. It doesn’t come without problems, but giving asylum to those in need is the very least humans can do.

A friend told me of their Facebook wall being worryingly full of support for Britain First and other hateful ignorance. I asked them to look at who was posting ‚Äì sure enough, the greatest digital vitriol was shared by those with the whitest of white bread lives. Tucked away in towns and villages secluded from the benefits of multi-cultural society, I often ponder why they get so scared. And then I decide I don‚Äôt really care, everyone is entitled to their opinion….but, please, please don‚Äôt be that guy or gal.