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Iranian refugees moving to north

[Iraq] Iranian Kurdish refugee Mohamed Sala Heydar, Sulaymaniyah northern Iraq. IRIN
Iranian Kurdish refugee Mohamed Sala Heydar, in his tent in the northern Iraqi city of Sulaymaniyah.
Swedish NGO Qandil is working in collaboration with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to build accommodation for 250 Iranian Kurdish refugee families who recently went to the northern Sulaymaniyah governorate, saying they had left deteriorating conditions in Al-Tash camp in the western Iraqi province of Al-Anbar. Families have been moving north for months now, but the trickle turned into a flood in April and May as violence in the Sunni triangle peaked with pitched battles between US forces and the Iraqi resistance in the city of Fallujah, near Al-Tash. Aid agencies say they have been able to provide residents of Al-Tash with medicine and the government is providing food. "Life was bad before the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime," Aziz Mohamed Mohamedi, a Kurd from Iran's western Kermanshah province, told IRIN in his sweltering, fly-filled tent just off the main Sulaymaniyah to Kalar road at Pungala. "With the fighting that followed the war, though, humanitarian aid almost totally dried up - we had almost no electricity, limited food rations, and no medicine at all." UNHCR has been providing aid in Al-Tash, through the Italian NGO Intersos, including non-food items, water and sanitation and income generation projects. The refugee agency is not however, encouraging people to move from the camp due to security reasons as the road between the camp and the north is deemed unsafe, it says. In addition to this, UNHCR has raised concerns regarding facilities for people returning to the north, including lack of shelter. Refugees at Pungala, a barren promontory housing 17 families overlooking the river Sirwan, said their relations with locals in Al-Tash and the nearby town of Ramadi had been tense since they were obliged to settle there by the Baathist regime in 1982 as part of Saddam Hussein's "Arabisation programme". But tensions grew tremendously with the start of the Coalition war. "There are many Saddam loyalists in Ramadi, people who hate Iraq's Kurds for fighting alongside the Americans," explained Mohamed Sala Heydar who, like other Al-Tash residents, was forced to leave Iran by the invading Iraqi army in 1980. "Whenever we left the camp to work, they insulted us, called us infidel friends of Israel and beat us up. Life became intolerable," Heydar said. US forces entered the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk with Kurdish fighters last year during the war that ousted Saddam Hussein. Other refugees claim they stopped going outside Al-Tash altogether after a mullah in Fallujah responded to rumours that elite Iraqi Kurdish militias were fighting alongside US troops outside the city with a fatwa (religious order) permitting the murder of any Kurd. Scattered in tent villages and rented accommodation in and around Khaniqin, Kalar, Darbendikhan and Arbat, the Iranian Kurds refugees receive aid both from Qandil and from the local departments of Sulaymaniyah governorate's Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs. Despite that, though, the situation at Pungala and in other tent villages is fairly dire. Aziz Mohamedi points to the corner of the tent, where his three-year-old son, Falah, is lying asleep, his face covered by flies. "This morning I took him to the clinic to get him treated for diarrhoea, probably caused by the water we drink here," he told IRIN. "They told me that they had no drugs." "What these people need above all are houses, and a settled place to live," Qandil's Sulaymaniyah manager Nawzad Bilal told IRIN. "We now have a piece of land for them, part of the collective town of Barika, near Arbat, and we're pushing hard for construction work to start as soon as possible." Tenders for the construction contract opened this week in Arbil, he added, and work should begin within 10 days. According to Qandil's standards, the work, which is to include a water project and renovation of the existing electricity grid, must be completed within 100 days. Like other humanitarian workers involved with the former residents of Al-Tash, though, Nawzad Bilal fears the project could be insufficient. "When we completed our survey [a month ago], we counted 250 families," he explained. "Every week, three, four or five new families arrive." And statistics gathered by Intersos after the fall of Saddam suggest there are around 700 families left in Al-Tash. "In all likelihood, they will soon be following the rest of the camp up to the north." That seems to be the opinion among the tent-dwellers of Pungala. Refugee Hassan Abdullah Mohamed said he has kept in close contact with those of his relatives still in Ramadi. "The only thing that's stopping them coming up here," he said, "is lack of money."

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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