IRAQ: Focus on treatment of foreign Arabs
BAGHDAD, 21 June (IRIN) - Ahmed Bodini, a Sudanese national, was driving his family home from a supermarket in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, when he was stopped at a checkpoint by government troops and interrogated.
"The national guards made me get out of the car and started swearing at me and humiliated me in front of my family because they discovered that I was Sudanese. I was immediately handcuffed and blindfolded and taken for three days of interrogation at a prison and beaten," Bodini said.
"They released me, giving me one week to leave the country telling me that we Arabs are terrorists who carry out suicide attacks that threaten world peace and security. But I don't have anywhere to go," he said. Bodini has lived in Iraq for nearly 20 years.
According to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are 42,000 Palestinian refugees and dozens of Sudanese nationals living in Iraq.
Some people from both nationalities have been in the country for more than two decades and are now facing tough times due to a crackdown on foreign insurgents.
Sudanese and Palestinians were favoured and welcomed by Saddam Hussein because he had a policy of helping under privileged Arab communities, and these two groups in particular, due to the political circumstances in their respective countries.
However, many Palestinians were recruited into the Baath party as a result and felt obliged to participate in politics due to assistance they were receiving from the government.
Now, both groups complain of discrimination as US and Iraqi forces carry out strategic security operations to flush out foreign fighters.
"Many families from these backgrounds have been suffering from discrimination in Iraq and are being forced to leave their homes. Some have even been forced to leave the country," a senior official for the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS), who preferred not to be named for security reasons, said.
The official continued, saying that living conditions for displaced Sudanese and Palestinians were deteriorating and that urgent action was needed from the new government.
According to him, the most badly affected groups were from Baghdad and among those camped near the Iraqi-Jordanian border.
"Foreign Arab families have been treated as terrorists and this is an abuse against people who for years were living safely and happily in this country," the source said.
ACTION DUE TO INSURGENCY
Interior ministry officials told IRIN that insurgency in the country, in which they say some Sudanese and Palestinians are involved, has meant that dozens of people from these countries have been arrested in Baghdad and in other Iraqi cities.
They denied that communities of these nationalities in Iraq had been harassed or treated badly.
Maj Salim Feiraz, a senior official in the Ministry of Interior (MoI), told IRIN that any foreigners found without proper documents would be deported. He said it was the only way to control foreign insurgency in the country.
"Sometimes we take the person direct from our office to the border if he is found to be suspect and his family will follow him later because many of those working with the insurgency bring their families as a way to cover their work," Feiraz explained.
A senior official from the MoI, told IRIN that of the insurgents captured in Iraq, nearly 80 percent were from other Arab countries.
TREATMENT DURING SADDAM'S TIME
Arabs of different nationalities, particularly Sudanese and Palestinians, received special treatment during Saddam Hussein's regime, mainly for political gain. This included free education, medical treatment and in some cases housing allowances.
However, following the conflict in April 2003, these benefits were stopped. Schools and universities started to charge them for education and most of the residents who were receiving housing allowances were evicted from their homes in Baghdad.
Aid agencies have been able to assist in some cases, but insecurity has hampered reconstruction and resettlement efforts.
"Palestinians are people who depend from the good heart of their Muslim brothers. Saddam was taking care of us because he understood our situation, but people now just know how to make us displaced again and accuse us of being terrorists," Muhammad Fadel, a Palestinian and father of five said.
He added that he was now squatting at a friend's house after being kicked out of his home.
Palestinians were recruited into the Baath Party in large numbers during Saddam's time, some explained that they were obliged to do so in order to receive ongoing benefits from the government.
Others said that Iraqis started to accuse them of being responsible for the poor economy in the country, as Saddam was taking from the Iraqis to give to them and accused Palestinians of being part of his intelligence service.
"Many of my friends turned their backs on me after the recent war saying that money spent on us should be used for Iraqis. I tried to explain that it was help and nothing else and that we are brothers," Fadel said.
Aid agencies are concerned that continuing complaints of discrimination could lead to increased displacement in a country which already has some one million people uprooted from their homes.
Some foreign Arab families are living in tents in the middle of a desert on the border with Jordan in catastrophic conditions, according to the IRCS.
Others who have lost their homes are still in the country and are sleeping rough in parks and abandoned schools in poor conditions with little or no assistance.
Marie-Helene Verney, a spokeswoman for UNHCR in Geneva said that the agency, obstructed by insecurity, was still working to get a full picture of the situation inside the country.
"We are not inside Iraq and this makes the situation more complicated for us to get the full picture of the Sudanese and Palestinians' situation inside Iraq as well as for other returnees," Verney explained.
"If the government does not take an initiative to help us, we will be victims of this violence against Arabs. I just want asylum in a country which will treat me as a human being and not an animal and criminal," Palestinian resident in Baghdad, Mariam Omar said.
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