UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
IRAQ: Focus on needs in Kirkuk
KIRKUK, 16 February 2005 (IRIN) - The oil-rich city of Kirkuk in the north of Iraq is considered to be one of the wealthiest places in the country, yet families continue to suffer a shortage of basic supplies after being displaced by ongoing land disputes between Kurds and Arabs.
The conflict over Kirkuk is a deep-rooted one. Kurds expelled from the city during Saddam Hussein's regime are returning to their original towns.
Arabs, who were brought to the city by Saddam under his Arabisation process which started in the 1970s, have been displaced and have been living on the outskirts of Kirkuk for months in need of supplies.
Some 250,000 Kurds and other non-Arabs, were forced to leave their homes by the Baath regime under the programme, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
SUPPLIES NEEDED URGENTLY
According to Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS) officials in Kirkuk, urgent supplies were needed for internally displaced people (IDPs) - especially food, blankets and tents. They added that a solution should be found quickly to prevent further conflicts in the town.
While there are no accurate statictics on how many Kurds have returned to Kirkuk already a HRW report points out that a UN survey found that 89 percent of the Kurds expelled wished to return. some experts say thousands have returned.
"The first and most important step for the new government is to bring democracy and the possibility for all Iraqis to share this democracy and the rebuilding of our country, without differences," Yasmin Abdul Uahad, president of the IRCS's Kirkuk branch, told IRIN.
The situation in the camps is critical due to poor hygiene and the accumulated garbage that has started to breed diseases, mostly among children, she added.
"With more and more Kurds returning, some expulsions continuing, and property claims not being effectively settled, the situation remains explosive," Roberta Cohen, senior fellow and co-director of the US-based Brookings School of Advance International Studies (SAIS) project on internal displacement, told IRIN
Playing in a puddle of sewage and rubbish with his friends, surrounded by tents, Ahmed Obeid, 13, told IRIN that he missed his home and wished that he could return to live in a house, and that he was suffering in the cold weather while living in a tent with his family.
"I don't understand politics, but the only thing I know is that we deserve to have a house like we had before and that no one is doing anything to help us," he said.
The displacement is not only affecting Arabs but Kurds too who have returned to Kirkuk and are living in temporary accommodation while awaiting a solution from the government.
According to a government official from Kirkuk, nearly 16,000 Kurdish families have moved back to the city and are living in tents in a very distressing situation.
Nearly 1,558 Turkmen, 1,804 Arab and 16,714 Kurdish families have moved to Kirkuk and are living in old government buildings or schools, or are camped on the outskirts of the city, local authorities said.
This movement back to the city has pushed Arabs out. It is also claimed that some Kurds have taken back land and homes with help from Kurdish parties.
Some Kurds said they were promised money and their land if they moved back to the city. Others told IRIN that they were offered US $5,000 to move back with help from Kurdish parties.
"Thousands of families are still living in tents in the city. The Arabs are suffering more than the others since they don't have support like the Kurds have from the Kurdish parties," Salim Sinawi, senior officer of the Kirkuk authorities, told IRIN.
Help is not coming soon enough for people in the disputed land. "I'm living in a tent now because the Kurds have thrown me out of my home, but at the same time I won't let them take our city. I'm an Iraqi and will fight for democracy in this country," Muhammad al-Katar, a father-of-five camped near Kirkuk, told IRIN.
But Hasib Rozbayne, director of resettlement for Kurds returning to the city, told IRIN that people were suffering due to poor living conditions and had been given false promises by the Iraq government.
Local people said that, in recent months, thousands of Kurdish families switched their food ration registrations back to Kirkuk, giving them the chance to vote in the city in the 31 January poll and in order to give Kurdish parties a majority in the city.
Some 100,000 Kurdish internally displaced people (IDP) living around Kirkuk were permitted to vote locally following a decision by Iraqi authorities in mid-January.
All this has led to families accusing the government of neglecting them. "Everyone just knows how to talk about elections but they don't know how to talk about our problems. My son is sick and for more than two weeks we haven't received any kind of help. Someone should do something for our lives. We are human beings too," Salua Salah, a 42-year-old mother-of-four, camped 5 km outside Kirkuk city, told IRIN.
In order to deal with the situation, the government established the Iraqi Property Claims Commission (IPCC), which started accepting claims in June 2004. Officials there say some 35,000 claims have been received so far and that 355 decisions have been issued.
Themes: (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Governance, (IRIN) Human Rights, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs
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