Monday, 14 May 2012, 07:37 GMT
Displaced Arabs may stay in Kurdistan - for good

A Kurdish man shakes hands with an Arab settler in Erbil. File photo./ GLOBE PHOTO/Safin Hamed

The Kurdish Globe

Kurdistan hosts 40,000 Arab IDP families

A political science expert says the relocation of tens of thousands of Iraqi Arab families in Kurdistan is normal and could be used to develop the Region. However, there are also concerns that if they don't go back to their places of origin, they might cause economic problems in the Region.

Hosam Hamdi, an Arab citizen, changed his official residence from Baghdad to Erbil six years ago due to security and employment challenges he was facing in his hometown.

"If the situation continues this way, I will never go back to Baghdad," says Hamdi, a photographer. "Besides, Erbil is very nice, I have my job and feel comfortable here."

Following the worsening of the security situation after the 2003 Iraq War, around 189,000 families in the Arab-populated areas of the country were displaced internally, and Kurdistan Region in the north, due to the better security situation and employment opportunities, became the destination of a significant portion of those internally displaced people (IDP).

The three provinces of the Region received 60,000 IDP families, out of which only 20,000 have returned to their hometowns. The remaining 40,000 still reside in the Region.

Iraqi Minister of Immigration and Immigrants Dindar Doski, to encourage those families to go back to their hometowns, has offered each family 4 million Iraqi dinars.

"They are free to decide to go back or not,"stated Doski in an interview with The Kurdish Globe. "Until now, 11,000 families have filled in the application forms to return home."

Doski says most of those families come from Mosul, Diala and Baghdad, as well as some from Anbar province.

Initially, the flow of the IDPs into the Region pushed up rental prices in Kurdistan, but now, as Arabs have the right to own property in the Region, purchase prices have also risen dramatically.

Hoshyar Khattab, a Kurdish citizen from Erbil, has lost hope of finding a rental house in Erbil.

"I went to Ashti City to find a house to rent, but prices are unbelievable there as well," explained Khattab. "Besides, most of the landlords are Arabs. In the past, they were looking for rental houses, but now we are becoming their renters."

Abubakir Rahman, a local lawyer, says Arabs can, after getting permission from the governorate, own property throughout the Region.

"The number of Arabs purchasing properties here, especially in the newly constructed residential compounds, is very high," Rahman explained to the Globe.

As violence in the country is rising, the possibility that those IDP families going back to their places of origin may be decreasing.

According to statistics announced by the Iraqi government early this month, 12 people died from acts of violence in April, compared to 112 in March.

However, the Iraqi Body Count website recorded 290 deaths in April.

Rising violence, and because Kurdistan Region is part of Iraq -- and Arabs can permanently relocate there -- it increases the possibility that IDPs will choose to stay.

"If those families do not want to leave Kurdistan, they could not be forced to do so as they are from the same country, not from another Arab country," said Faiaq Tofiq, deputy minister of interior in the KRG.

Commenting on the impact of the mass immigration of Arabs to Kurdistan, Dr. Salih Mala Omar, a political scientist, says there are two types of relocation.

"If they [Iraqi Arab IDPs] relocate in the disputed areas, it will have a negative impact," said Omar. "However, it would be beneficial for the Region if they relocate in the three provinces of KRG."

The relocation of a large number of university professors, physicians, engineers and other professionals into Kurdistan are among factors Omar describes as positive in developing the Region.

Col. Herish Ahmad, director of the Crime Eradication Force, part of the police, believes some of the young people who claim to come to Kurdistan for work commit theft and other crimes that create various social problems, but he says the Arab families living along with Kurds in the neighborhoods have not created significant problems.

Omar says that not everyone should be allowed to enter Kurdistan and reside there.

"There should be strict procedures to regulate the inflow and control who is allowed to live and work in the Region," Omar said in a Globe interview. "There are always people who will harm the Region's security and stability if they can."

If those families stay in Kurdistan, and the northward flow continues in the future, Arabs might become the second ethnic group in the Region and have influence on the structure of the Kurdish Parliament. However, if those Arab families leave the Region, there will be 40,000 residential units available on the market, which would please local renters.