Skip to content


Personal tools
You are here: Home » News » Iraqi Kurdistan Offers Safe Haven for Fleeing Arabs

Iraqi Kurdistan Offers Safe Haven for Fleeing Arabs

Document Actions
Families from Baghdad and other cities of Iraq head north to escape death squads and sectarian violence. By Frman abdul-Rahman in Sulaimaniyah (ICR No. 198, 13-Oct-06)
Salah Abdul-Wahab and his wife sit in the office of the director of the Sulaimaniyah health department, anxious to find out whether they will be able to start a new life.

The director is considering the two dermatologists' request to transfer from their hometown of Samarra in the Arab province of Tikrit to this Kurdish city.

After a friend of his, also a doctor, was killed a month ago, Abdul-Wahab decided to leave. "No one feels safe in Samarra, every day we see our friends and relatives killed in front of our eyes," he said.

The couple chose Sulaimaniyah because it is an oasis of calm compared to other strife-torn cities, which they no longer deem habitable.

Every day, many Arab families arrive in the cities of northern Iraq desperate for a respite from the sectarian and insurgent violence that is spreading in many areas of southern and central Iraq.

Though Prime Minister Maliki's government has pledged to restore security and stability, the number of civilians killed remains high. Officials estimate that around 100 people fall victim to the violence every day.

Since getting a visa to travel abroad is difficult and emigrating to neighbouring countries expensive, many Iraqis opt for the closest and most accessible save haven: Kurdistan.

According to statistics from the Sulaimaniyah Governorate Council, from June to September 2006 as many as 1000 Sunni and Shia Arab families have come to live in the city, joining around 7500 Arab workers who've turned up looking for work.

Jutiar Noori, the deputy governor of Sulaimaniyah, said the Kurdish authorities are willing to help those fleeing the violence.

"Our door is open to receive Arab displaced persons and we will do whatever we can in terms of providing humanitarian [aid]," he said.

According to Noori, the Sulaimaniyah government has decided, in discussions with a UN delegation, to set up two refugee camps in Pjeramagroon and Bareeka on the outskirts of the city, to settle displaced persons who cannot afford its spiralling rents.

Before they can settle here, though, the Arab families are usually vetted by local security officials to ensure that militants don't sneak in, security sources say. Once they have been cleared, they are free to live wherever they like in Iraqi Kurdistan, in accordance with the constitution.

Residents of Sulaimaniyah appear to be divided over the influx of people escaping the turmoil in the rest of the country.

Alan Ghafoor, 25, a teacher, reflects a view held by some. "I am worried that they will never return," he said. "Some are rich people and have started to buy real estate. I am afraid they could create another Kirkuk in Sulaimnaiyah."

Oil-rich Kirkuk’s ethnically diverse communities – which include Kurds, Arabs and Turkoman - all lay claim to the city, and often accuse each other of trying to usurp control.

But there others, like Dilkhwaz Hasan, 28, a civil servant, who see the accommodation of displaced Arabs as a humanitarian act. "Innocents get hurt in wars, therefore the Kurds should shelter these people and protect them from the fire of sectarianism," he said.

Among the families moving north are some of Kurdish origin. They spent many years in Baghdad but now want to leave.

Kurdish shopkeeper Haider Muhammed, 28, was born in the capital. His family have lived there for 35 years, but after receiving several threatening letters, they felt they had no other option but to return to Sulaimaniyah, their native city.

"Death is everywhere in Baghdad. You can't get on a bus, or go to a mosque or restaurant without worrying about explosions," said Muhammed.

The Sulaimaniyah authorities are particularly welcoming of the likes of Salah Abdul-Wahab and his wife, whose skills are in short supply. Officials provide them with accommodation and help them settle in.

Deputy Governor Noori defends the preferential treatment, "We urgently need specialists [like] university professors, physicians and engineers because they benefit the city."

Frman Abdul-Rahman is an IWPR contributor in Sulaimaniyah.
Created by anita
Last modified 2006-10-29 11:07 PM

Powered by Plone

This site conforms to the following standards: