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UNHCR Highlights Plight of Ahwazi Refugees in Iraq

A report on Iraq published by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has drawn attention to the plight of Ahwazi Arab refugees in Iraq.

There are at least 2,500 Ahwazi refugees in Iraq, most of whom arrived after fleeing conflict between Iran and Iraq. According to the UNHCR, "they are predominantly of rural background, and live in local settlements in Southern Iraq near the Dujailah area 45 kilometres west of Al-Kut."

Before the Iraq War, the refugees had been provided with land and houses by the Iraqi government, having been forced off their land by the Iranian regime. This created resentment among local Iraqis, who have persecuted the Ahwazis since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

According to the UNHCR, around 80 Ahwazi families forced out of their homes by supporters of the new government, which contains parties sponsored by the Iranian regime, have been relocated to its transit centre on the outskirts of Basra City. The report adds that "they were later evacuated by the Iraqi authorities and ever since have been scattered throughout the Southern Governorates. Many attempted to return to Iran, but came back to Iraq due to alleged harassment by the Iranian authorities and difficulties reintegrating following years in exile."

The UN agency's report states that "most Ahwazi refugees are either living in public buildings or mud houses that lack water, electricity and sewage services. Most public buildings will almost certainly be repossessed by the Government in the future, and also remain at risk from mines and unexploded ordinance."

The UNHCR says that the Ahwazis now face problems obtaining new residency permits, which has been an obstacle to obtaining public services such as education. The agency is in the process of conducting an in-depth survey to register them and acquire necessary data. It also said it had received reports that child labour was prevalent among Ahwazi refugees and that Ahwazi refugees were being denied equal access to health services. The agency added that "most Ahwazi children are suffering malnutrition".

The report states that "many Ahwazi refugees face severe problems as regards adequate housing and access to public services such as education and health. The 104 Ahwazi refugees in the Baghdad area face similar problems to those faced by Syrian and Palestinian refugees."

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