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Arab Protests Erupt Over Land Confiscation For Sugar Production

Ahwazi Arab farmers this week staged protests against land confiscation for Iran's cash crop sugar plantations.

Holding up copies of their land titles, scores of farmers in the villages of Al-Shemria and Tel-Aswad, which lie between Ahwaz City and Muhammerah (Khorramshahr), stated their opposition to the compulsory acquisition orders by the Iranian government.

The sugar industry has already come under attack from local members of parliament for contributing to the region's growing ecological disaster as well as racial discrimination in employment practices.

Waste water from sugar processing factories is polluting underground aquifers, claimed Abdullah Sameri, Mohammerah (Khorramshahr) representative in the Iranian parliament, at a press conference in July.

Sameri accused the Mirza Kochak Khan sugar factory of failing to abide by its responsibilities and meeting environmental regulations. He claimed that waste water was causing salination of nearby agricultural land and underground water reservoirs, which affected the quality of drinking water and prevented farm productivity. The Mira Kochak Khan sugar company is one of seven sugar agribusiness enterprise development projects and manages 14,000 hectares of land southwest of the Ahwaz-Mohammerah highway.

Iran's sugar growing regions
Ahwazi Arabs also fear that the loss of their land to the sugar industry will lead to poor compensation, while failing to improve employment prospects.

In June 2016, the member of parliament for Falahieh (Shadegan) member Majid Naseri attacked systematic discrimination in sugarcane projects, accusing employers of moving in non-indigenous populations from other provinces.

The plantations were the subject of strong condemnation from UN Special Rapporteur for Adequate Housing, Miloon Kothari, who said following a visit to the region in 2005: "When you visit Ahwaz in terms of the very adverse conditions in the neighbourhoods, there are thousands of people living with open sewers, no sanitation, no regular access to water, electricity and no gas connections. I think that the kind of question that arises is, why is that? Why have certain groups not benefited?

"You notice that we drove outside the city about 20 km and we visited the areas where large development projects are coming up - sugar cane plantations and other projects along the river - and the estimate we received is that between 200,000 - 250,000 Arab people are being displaced from their villages because of these projects...

"There is an attempt being made by the government to build new towns and bring in new people from other provinces. For example, there is the new town of Shirinshah where most of the people being brought into that town are people from Yazd province [in central Iran] - non-Arabs. So the question then is that these people who are being brought there, perhaps for work and lots of incentives, why is it that those jobs are not going to the locals?"

 As a result of his criticism of ethnic discrimination in Iran, the Iranian regime has refused to allow any visits from any UN experts, including the Special Rapporteur on Iran Ahmed Shaheed, who has been banned from the country since he was appointed in 2010.