The majority of those entering Kurdistan region are Arabs, who are displaced due to the unfair conditions imposed on them. Kurdistan region has acted as a safe haven for them, but despite this, public discomfort and anxiety are on the rise.
The Kurdish public are divided on this issue. Those who are nationalist tend to perceive the influx of refugees as a major concern that must be dealt with adequately, while others who are considered as moderate Kurds don’t see the influx of Arabs in Kurdistan region as a national crisis.
A Facebook page titled “No for coming of Arabs to Kurdistan” in 2013 had 592 likes, which seems insignificant given Kurdistan’s large population, but it marked the beginning of a growing public discontent with Arabs in the region. The page had a banner, which read, “House for rent” and below the banner it was written “Only to Kurdish families”.
More recently, a restaurant in a town between Silemani and Erbil had a sign at its entrance saying, “Arabs cannot enter”. Surprisingly, most people stayed silent, with little opposition to this racist sign. Increasingly there are derogatory statements made about Arabs living in Kurdistan region. The media further perpetuates negativity towards Arabs through their reporting and derogatory tone towards Arabs.
The growing public discomfort is so strong, and in many instances incredibly racist, which poses a real danger of Kurdish communities perpetuating racism socially without considering the wrongness of it.
Currently, no data exists documenting the number of displaced Arabs in Kurdistan, but there exists an unprecedented number of Arabs in Kurdistan region that simply did not exist before. Some of them are displaced while other are permanent residents in Kurdistan region.
Historically, Kurdish people have suffered under repressive Iraqi regimes — Saddam hussein chemically gassed Kurdish people while the current Iraqi government has withheld Kurdistan’s share of its annual budget leaving the region in debt, and increasing its deficit.
According to the Iraqi constitution Iraqi people are allowed to live and work anywhere within their country, including Kurdistan Region. However, the regional parliament has jurisdiction over its internal issues and has the power to regulate security, as well as social affairs.
- Kurdistan Regional Government and the Kurdistani Parliament should work with civil society organisations to regulate the legal status of displaced Arabs Iraqis and Syrian refugees.
- Media outlet should be held legally accountable for biased reporting that amounts to hate-speech or highlights bias towards displaced Arab families
- People should be well-informed about the number of refugees and asylum seekers in kurdistan region — their rights must be made aware.
- Local police forces should take cases of discrimination against displaced Arabs seriously and they must not become a target of hate.
- Acts of racism or segregations against displaced Arabs or foreigners should have seriously legal implications.
- Foreigners and displaced Arabs must be made aware of local customs and traditions.
- KRG must have a clear policy in dealing with displaced Arabs and refugees.
- Universities and schools should provide language courses for displaced Arabs and refugees, particularly in case of children so that they do not miss out on school.
Shalaw Fatah is a graduate of American University of Iraq, Silemani and is currently completing his masters.