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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

IRAQ: Report highlights problems as Arabs face displacement by Kurds

ANKARA, 19 February 2004 (IRIN) - Concern is growing over increasing displacement as Arabs in northern Iraq are forced out of their homes by Kurds returning to areas where they once lived after being evicted by the previous Iraqi regime's "Arabisation" programme, which placed Arabs in oil-rich areas.

Some 100,000 Arabs have been forced to leave ethnically mixed areas of northern Iraq since the ousting of Saddam Hussein last April, according to a new report published on Thursday by the Norwegian Refugee Council's (NRC) Global Internally Displaced People (IDP) Project.

"They have been threatened and there are reports of Kurdish fighters who have approached Arabs with guns, ordering them to leave within 24 hours. Some of the Arab houses have been flattened by bulldozers," an Iraq researcher for NRC, Arild Birkenes, told IRIN from Geneva on Thursday.

The information in the report, entitled: 'Iraq: Return of evicted Kurds causes new displacements', contains data from October, due to the lack of current information because of the security situation, Birkenes explained, adding that the Arabs were commonly called secondary displaced.

The Arabs who recently left the province of Diyala on the outskirts of Baghdad and the oil-rich areas around Kirkuk and Mosul in the north were resettled there by the previous regime to suppress Kurdish aspirations for independence and strengthen control over the region by changing its ethnic composition.

Under Saddam's "Arabisation" campaign, some 800,000 Kurds - but also other members of other ethnic groups - were forced to flee their homes. Most found refuge in the Kurdish-controlled districts along the Turkish and Iranian borders. Encouraged by the Kurdish authorities, many now want to return to their places of origin, but US-led military forces have increasingly tried to prevent their return until a mechanism is in place to address the resulting property disputes.

"The information is scarce, but in principle they (Arabs) should be part of the food distribution programme and the Oil-for Food Programme. They should not be exposed to hunger at least as a minimum," the NRC official said, adding that the NGO had contacted the CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) but was still awaiting a response. "There is very little we can do... but there needs to be a solution," he maintained.

"This should be dealt with on a national level and the UN for example should recommend that the CPA endorses national legislation on property rights."

Birkenes also noted the situation of Kurds returning home from abroad. "They should not return home yet as it is not advisable due to the current situation inside due to security and property [disputes]. This could potentially cause tension and violence and new displacements if more Kurds return," he stressed.

Due to deteriorating security conditions inside the country, many aid agencies have scaled down their presence, leaving limited help on offer for those in need."UNHCR is very much concerned about the renewed displacement presently taking place in Iraq," Abdi Aziz Osman, officer-in-charge of UNHCR's Iraq support unit in Amman, Jordan, told IRIN.

"Returning home is the most important wish of all displaced Iraqis, but it should not happen at the cost of others. With little UN presence on the ground due to security reasons, there is little concrete we can do. However, we are working very closely with the authorities and other actors on the ground in trying to set in place proper mechanisms to deal with the dire housing and property issues that have arisen. Unfortunately, we expect it to take a long time before all the displaced will be properly settled again."


Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Human Rights, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs




This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2004

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