Report on the humanitarian issues in Iraq - Oxfam Int - 30 Jul 2007

" Rising to the humanitarian challenge in Iraq" - Oxfam Int. report in PDF format


More than two million Iraqis are estimated to have fled to neighbouring countries. Syria has around 1.4 million Iraqi refugees, Jordan 750,000, the Gulf States 200,000, Egypt 80,000 and Lebanon 40,000.45 Approximately 40,000–50,000 Iraqis are leaving their homes to seek safety inside or outside Iraq on a monthly basis. According to Refugees International, Iraq now represents the fastest-growing refugee crisis in the world.

Minorities fleeing persecution are adding to the growing numbers of refugees and displaced people. Christians – who comprise between 8 and 12 per cent of the Iraqi population – are increasingly reported to be experiencing discrimination in accessing the labour market or basic social services, and are particularly fearful of attacks by militia. Of the 1.5 million Assyrians living in Iraq before 2003, half have left the country and the remaining 750,000 are trying to move to safer areas.Iraqi Yazidis, numbering some 550,000, are also facing violent assaults and threats, as are Iraq’s Turkmens and Kurds, as these groups are seen by some as being affiliated to foreign powers.

Iraq is also losing its educated public-service workers in massive numbers. Reports indicate that some universities and hospitals in Baghdad have lost up to 80 per cent of their professional staff. At least 40 per cent of Iraq’s professional class, including doctors, teachers, and water engineers, have left since 2003.

Many women have tried to flee to neighbouring countries to find work, in order to secure an income for their families back in Iraq. UNHCR has found numerous cases where young women have been promised jobs in Syria, only to arrive and find themselves being exploited by sex traffickers.

Providing shelter for Iraqi refugees is an international obligation that is legally binding for signatories of the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol relating to the status of refugees. The burden should not fall solely on regional governments such as those of Jordan and Syria. It is imperative that the international community, particularly the USA and the UK, meet their responsibilities to provide refuge for those fleeing insecurity and violence in Iraq, and to provide assistance to refugees who remain in the region.

Read the full report

Assimilation, Exodus, Eradication: Iraq’s minority communities since 2003

" Assimilation, Exodus, Eradication: Iraq’s minority communities since 2003 " By Preti Taneja - MRG

Executive summary

Since 2003, the civilian population of Iraq has been subjected to horrific levels of violence and terror. But forIraq’s minority communities, caught between the warring factions, the crisis is particularly acute. So much so thatthe very existence of some of these groups in their ancient homeland is now under threat.

Ten per cent of Iraq’s population is made up of minority communities. They include Armenian and Chaldo-Assyrian Christians, Bahá’ís, Faili Kurds, Jews, Mandaeans, Palestinians, Shabaks, Turkomans and Yazidis. Some of these groups have lived in Iraq for two millenniaor more. There is now a real fear that they will not survivethe current conflict and their unique culture and heritage in Iraq may be extinguished forever.

A huge exodus of these communities is now takingplace. The Iraqi Ministry for Migration and Displacement in Iraq has estimated that nearly half of the minority communities have left the country. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, minorities make up approximately 30 per cent of the 1.8m Iraqi refugees now seeking sanctuary in Jordan, Syria and across the world.

Minorities are specifically targeted for eradication because of their faith and ethnicity. Christians are at risk because their faith associates them with the West and with the MNF-I (Multi National Force in Iraq). The traditional trade of this community as alcohol-sellers also makes them a target. Islamist groups have dubbed the Yazidi religion ‘impure’ and called for their destruction. For Mandaeans, the carrying of weapons is a direct violationof their religious laws, thus making it difficult for them todefend themselves.

All of Iraq’s minority communities have suffered violations since 2003 which include:

• destruction and defacement of religious buildings

• mass murder of congregations gathered in and aroundthem

• abduction, ransoming and murder of religious andcivic leaders and individuals including children

• forced conversion to Islam using tactics such as deaththreats, rape and forced marriage.


Read the full report

So what do you do?

All over the world, ordinary women, men, and children are fighting for the rights of their communities to be recognized. Dr Hunain Al-Qaddo spoke to MRG's Monica Evans.

Dr Al-Qaddo

Talking fast becomes second nature when you are passionate about your work. Dr Hunain Al-Qaddo, head of Iraq’s Minorities Council, knows time is short: armed with facts and figures he fights for Iraq’s minority religious and ethnic groupings.

To anyone who will listen, he talks about embattled communities representing Iraq’s ancient cultures and religions - Armenians, Chaldo–Assyrian Christians, Baha’is, Faili Kurds, Jews, Mandeans, Palestinians, Shabaks, Turkomans and Yazidis – all fleeing for safe haven in other countries.

Not only beliefs but livelihoods threatened

Some minorities have all but vanished. Sabean Mandeans, whose religion dates back to Mesopotamian civilisation, carry no weapons and will not kill. They are targeted for their beliefs - and for their businesses. Many are skilled goldsmiths. In 2005 fewer than 13,000 Mandeans remained in Iraq - a third of the numbers under Saddam Hussein.

Dr Al-Qaddo is a leader of the Shabak Democratic Assembly. Since 1502, Shabaks - an Aryan people – whose language has elements of Farsi, Arabic, Turkish and Kurdish - have lived mainly in the Nineveh plains. Although recognised in Iraq since 1952 their status, and lands, are disputed by Kurdish groups.

All this troubles Dr Al-Qaddo. "Iraq is gradually losing its richness, its colour and texture and will never be the same." He condemns attempts to assimilate minorities and wants punishment for those persecuting them. For him, the exodus of minority groups is as much a tragedy as the Saddam’s regime to assimilate or “arabize” them.

So, Dr Al-Qaddo talks, and he talks fast, making sure people hear about the many groups in Iraq beyond the Sunnis, Shias and Kurds. The problem is multi-faceted: not just religious persecution, not just land rights, not just an inability to enjoy cultural customs and observe religious beliefs openly and without fear of reprisals from rival groups or terrorist factions.

Public office and personal risk

Until the late 1980s Dr Al-Qaddo was part of the Iraqi opposition in exile. Family circumstances prompted a return home to university posts in Basra and later in Mosul. Pragmatic and politically astute, Dr Al-Qaddo noticed some students were also in the police and armed forces so he ensured potentially key people were educated about issues not normally discussed.

“I am singled out for assassination by many armed groups in Iraq but I will carry on my mission not matter what risks are involved.” Dr Al-Qaddo helped create the first Governorate Council in Iraq in 2003 - in Nineveh. In 2005 he worked to draft the Iraqi Constitution, was elected to the National Assembly, and established the Iraqi Minorities Council with minorities’ representatives. Since 2006 he is a member of the Iraqi Council of Representatives and its Human Rights committee.

None of this protects him. “I am singled out for assassination by many armed groups in Iraq but I will carry on my mission not matter what risks are involved”. He fears not only for minorities but for all Iraq. “The civilised world cannot afford to lose its war against terrorism and extremism in Iraq – the consequences would be catastrophic. I am deeply concerned about Iraq’s future – partition looms over us as a result of the short-sighted approach of many Iraqi politicians.”

Indefatigably, whenever opportunities arise, Dr Al-Qaddo talks about Iraq, its minorities, its problems, and what options there are to resolve his beloved country’s difficulties. And, since time is short Dr Al-Qaddo talks fast.

Interview by MRG's Monica Evans. Dr Al-Qaddo was in London in July 2007 on a visit organised by MRG.

New report on minorities' quest for equality in Turkey

Ishbel Matheson (MRG) - 10 December 2007

Millions of ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities remain unrecognized by the Turkish state, face discrimination and are now increasingly under threat as a result of a growing wave of violent nationalism, Minority Rights Group says in a new report.

The report says that whilst the accession process to become a EU member state has forced Turkey to make significant strides in minority rights, much more remains to be done. The report titled A Quest for Equality: Minorities in Turkey is the most up-to-date analysis available on the situation of all minorities in Turkey.

"Turkey is a country where a centuries-old mix of languages, religions, cultures and traditions is practiced within its borders, but minority protection still falls far short of international standards," says Ishbel Matheson, MRG's Head of Policy and Communications.

"Turkey's multi-cultural heritage is one of its biggest assets. But this positive aspect is not embraced at the highest level. Instead, mention of minorities and minority rights triggers nationalist reactions by certain sectors of society," she adds.

The only protection for minorities in Turkey has been set out in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne but in practice its scope is limited only to Armenians, Jews and Rum (Greek orthodox) Christians.

But Turkey is home to a vast number of minorities including ethnic Kurds, Caucasians, Laz and Roma. The country's other religious minorities include Alevis, Assyrians, Caferis and Reformist Christians.

These groups are legally not recognized as minorities and simply referring to their minority status, let alone working for their rights, could lead to a jail sentence.

According to the report, minorities excluded from the Treaty of Lausanne are very limited in their rights to use their languages in schools and in the media. Their religious rights are also curtailed.

The report also says a 10 percent electoral threshold prevents minority pro-Kurdish parties from getting elected to parliament. These parties have repeatedly failed to surpass the national threshold despite having received the highest percentage of votes in some of the Kurdish populous southeastern provinces.

Minorities have also increasingly becoming victims of a rising trend of nationalism in the country. In January 2007, journalist and Armenian human rights activist Hrant Dink was shot dead in Istanbul. The suspect told police that Dink was Armenian and had "insulted Turkishness".

The report says that the EU accession process and the proposed new constitution in 2008 give plenty of opportunity for Turkey to make legal changes to protect minorities.

"We recommend speedy legal reforms - this is crucial, but to bring real change to Turkey's minorities there has to be radical transformation of the prevalent mentality towards minorities of both the state and society," Matheson says.