Life in Kurdistan: Red Tape Round 2, Getting a Iraq/Kurdistan Residency Card

I finally received my residency card for Iraq and Kurdistan this week. Now I have official documentation to prove who I am, and that I have the legal right to remain in this country to work. Though the potential consequence of deportation and never being allowed back into the country if I didn’t have the ID isn’t a particularly threatening one.

‘Oh, you want to kick me out of Iraq and send me back to America? I’m never allowed to return to this country ever again?’

Okay then.

As per usual, the process of applying for, and receiving this card, used up rolls and rolls of red tape, time, and many tears of boredom. There were the two trips to Suleimaniya where we were herded from one office to another for six hours, and two trips to the Internal Security offices here in Ranya.

Security officer at the police station (or internal security services, not really clear)

Security officer at the police station (or internal security services, not really clear)

The first interview went like this: the usual questions of d.o.b, birthplace, age, height, hair and skin color. Places I have traveled to, close friends, former occupations, have I worked for the authorities before, education.

Did I enter the country legally? Yes. Even if I hadn’t, would I tell you?

Permanent address and places of interest near it – like they would know? I said there are a lot of tea plantations near my house.

The names and occupation of my father, mother, grandfathers, and uncles. When I said I don’t actually know the names of my paternal grandfather and uncles, they looked at me like I was crazy. Or an idiot, really. How could I not know their names?? Well, maybe because I rarely ever see them, and also, I only refer to them as “grandfather” and “uncle” in Korean. It’s rude to call people by their given names if they’re older than you. Just because in Kurdistan people’s last names are the names of your father and grandfather, does not mean you can write down my name as “Yein Stephen Sunjin”. I think I was asked the name of my great-grandfather at one point. At which I just snorted (to myself) and made up some Korean names.

Then, any distinguishing marks like tattoos or piercings? No. The security officer then looked at me, made squinty eyes and said, “oh! Asian eyes!”, laughed, and wrote it down. Umm, excuse me? That’s not racist at all.

Then came the question of religious affiliation. What religion are you? Or what they really wanted to know was, are you Muslim or Christian? I really don’t like the idea of being officially classified for what is an entirely personal matter. I really wanted to reply, “it’s none of your business and to classify people by religion or any other ethnic delineation, leads to problems.” But instead I replied, “none.”  To which the police officer responds, “oh, so you’re Buddhist?” Yes. Totally. Because if I don’t have a religious affiliation, I must be Buddhist. I couldn’t possible either be atheist, or simply unwilling to answer the question. Sigh. “You are Buddhist?” No. “Theeen, are you Muslim or Christian?” Given these two options, I answered ‘Christian’. Satisfied with this answer, the officer moved on to the next set of questions.

 When we were finally done with this extended interview, which you will have to go through if you wish to live and work in Kurdistan/Iraq, it was about another month or so before I received my residency card. Which, by the way, I will have you know, does not at all represent how I actually look. This is probably the most unflattering ID photo I’ve ever taken. But yein kim kim is now officially a resident of Iraq.

yein kim kim is officially a resident of Iraq.


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