IN two weeks seven Fijian men serving as security guards in Iraq have died, leaving behind grieving wives and children with no fathers.
These men go to Iraq with the vision that when they return home, they will be able to provide their families with a better livelihood.
Many of them return and build a home, buy a car, pay off debts and provide a better future for their children.
Others return in coffins.
With the majority being former soldiers, death is often disguised as part and parcel of the job.
But the desperation for employment and, for others, the lure of better pay, is the main reason that hundreds of Fijians are taking the risk to work in Iraq.
Four died on April 17 when they were ambushed by insurgents and another three died yesterday when the vehicle they were travelling in detonated an explosive device on a road in Baghdad.
Both groups of men were travelling in convoys of vehicles delivering supplies to northern Iraq.
But these are the risks they are willing to take, especially when you get to earn between $3000 to $6000 a month.
And if you are sent
to high-risk areas, the salary is even higher, with allowances ranging from $1000 to $2000 on top of their normal salary.
There are 400 Fijians serving as security guards in Iraq and since its inception two years ago, more than a 1000 have returned home after completing a contract there.
They are either recruited by local agents, recruited online or they join other companies when their contract expires with the company that sent them there originally.
The latter is what is becoming a serious concern for local agents and the Government.
Local director of Global Risk, Sakiusa Raivoce, said more and more of his men were joining other companies at the end of their contracts while a few others absconded before their contracts were over.
He said the men often jumped ship because the money and the conditions offered were good, something he really does not mind.
But the danger about it is that most of the companies these men sign up with are not well-equipped to do security work in many high-risk areas.
"Most of these men complete their six months and before they return home they are lured by other companies that offer them a higher salary.
"The salary is the same as those of expatriates because the zone that they are required to work in is very dangerous," Mr Raivoce said.
"Without looking at what the contract entails, they jump ship.
"Most of these companies that they join do not have proper protective gear or protective vehicles for the guards to use when they go into dangerous zones.
"Most of these companies use ordinary vehicles for convoy escort, which is not suppose to be the case.
"Vehicles travelling dangerous routes are supposed to be well-equipped, protected and able to detect roadside bombs.
"I won't be surprised if more of our men will die as a result of this.
"And in Iraq, any foreigner is enemy to them."
Control Risk director Jonetani Kaukimoce said the danger of joining some companies in Iraq was that administration work was not being carried out properly.
He said either contracts were not signed, or there was no cover for insurance and compensation.
"The importance of these administration issues showed in what just happened.
"Men have been killed and we do not know whether they have an insurance policy or any compensation whatsoever.
"We don't know and that is part of the administration," Mr Kaukimoce said.
There is nothing that the local companies or government can do to stop our men from joining other companies in Iraq.
The local security agents said they could not stop the men from joining other companies because they joined at a time when their contract had expired with the company that originally recruited.
"They go for six months and when their contracts expire, they are expected to return home and have a choice of extending their contract again," Sabre International Security local director Josateki Tarogi said.
"From what we have heard, most of these men are lured to join other companies at the airport, which was the case for two of our men who died in the ambush in Kirkuk."
Caretaker Labour Minister Kenneth Zinck said the Government could not stop them either because it was a contract between the guard and the company.
When asked as to whether the Government could stop local recruitment, Mr Zinck said it was the right and freedom of the individual to work anywhere he or she wished to.
The only advice that local agents and the Government could give to those intending to work in Iraq was to carefully scrutinise the work contracts from companies that offer better work opportunities in Iraq.
The security companies that operate in Iraq are US, UK and Australia-based security companies.
They include Global Risk Strategies, Armour Group, Control Risk International, Custer Battles, Triple Canopy, Iraq American Solution, Edinburgh Risk, Sabre International Security and Sky Link.
Those with offices in Fiji are Global Risk, Risk Control, Triple Canopy and Sabre International Security.
Fiji earns about $15million annually in remittances from Iraq, boosting the national economy.
It has minimised the
unemployment rate and improved the livelihood of many families, especially those in rural areas.
So while the risk may be high, the money is good and for many of our men serving in Iraq, that is all that matters.
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