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Shelter provided for displaced Iranian Kurds

With work nearing completion on a new housing complex in the town of Barika, some 45 km south of Sulaymaniyah in northern Iraq, an end is in sight to the plight of 250 Iranian Kurdish families who spontaneously left the Al-Tash refugee camp in the western Al-Anbar governorate, saying conditions there had deteriorated. The camp, 140 km south of Sulaymaniyah, houses Iranians who left their country after the fall of the Shah in 1979 and during the 1980-88 war between Iraq and Iran. The former government established the camp in the mid-1980s to gather all the Iranian ethnic Kurds in the country in one place. There were 10,000 to 12,000 refugees at Al-Tash before the recent war, but refugees who have left say that only about 25 percent remain. The distribution of the houses among refugee families now in Barika was decided at a meeting late last week, following consultations with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), two NGOS involved in the resettlement project, local authorities and refugee delegates. The construction project, implemented by the Swedish NGO Qandil with UNHCR funds, was given the go-ahead this June. An agreement to build the houses was signed on 16 June between UNHCR and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) authorities. The KRG approved the use of land for as long as the beneficiaries enjoyed refugee status and remained inside Iraq and agreed not to remove anyone from the houses during this time. Despite the progress made at Barika, however, the problem of Iranian Kurdish refugees in Kurdish-controlled areas is still far from solved. Specifically, there are more refugee families than houses. Since the agreement was signed, the number of families fleeing Al-Tash has risen from 250 to 432. Aware that this would happen, partners in the Barika project agreed to distribute houses to families on the basis of need. Brought in by UNHCR to collect data on the health and living conditions of families, REACH, a local NGO based in Sulaymaniyah, asked 35 refugee delegates to provide weekly information updates. "Many of these families were not settled, moving from place to place to find work," REACH programme manager Dana Hassan Mohamed told IRIN in Sulaymaniyah. "A one-off question-and-answer survey would have provided inaccurate information." Since last week's meeting, though, both delegates and refugee families have been complaining that the distribution of houses is unjust. While there is general agreement that around 80 percent of those chosen do fall into the category of most needy, there is evidence that others may have jumped the queue. "Since the beginning of our involvement in the project, we had planned to wrap things up with a joint audit of the distribution process", REACH project monitor Hassan Jafar Abdulrahman told IRIN. "This will take place next week. If there is evidence of flagrant injustice, we will intervene." According to Abdulrahman, there appear to be two main reasons for refugee unhappiness. The first is that, at the meeting to decide house distribution last week, information from an earlier Qandil-sponsored survey was mixed with data from REACH's programme. The second is the tendency on the part of some refugee delegates to prefer favouritism to impartiality. "When you give the objects of a survey an active role in a survey, as we have done, there is always a danger they will put the interests of relatives and friends over others," Abdulrahman explained. It is still not clear what will happen to the families left out of the Barika project. Nawzad Bilal, head of Qandil's Sulaymaniyah office, said the idea of offering them rent subsidies had been suggested to UNHCR. Meanwhile, construction work at Barika has been hampered by the rising cost of materials, particularly acute in the Kurdish north. "One part of the project is to provide a water treatment plant for the houses," Bilal explained. "Since we finalised our budget with the UNHCR in June, the price of pipes has doubled," he said. "I'll be going to Baghdad this week to try to buy some directly from the bazaar," he added.

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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