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Protecting the rights of minorities in Iraq

For minorities to be able to enjoy equal rights and participate in decision-making, an important pla..

For minorities to be able to enjoy equal rights and participate in decision-making, an important place to start is providing education in their mother toungue. Inclusion through education was the topic of a workshop held in Erbil by NPA and partners.

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The humanitarian crisis and instability in Iraq have disproportionately affected Iraqs most vulnerable people, in particular subjecting minorities more than other ethnic and religious groups in the country. Minorities have been exposed to several influxes of displacement and were targeted especially after the collapse of Saddam regime in 2003.

The mass majority of minorities have left their homes, they have been either displaced to safe zones within the country or decided to leave the country and immigrate.

On April 8th-9th, 2019, a two-day workshop entitled, “Inclusive education and rights of linguistic minorities” took place at the Erbil International hotel in Erbil, Iraq. The workshop was coordinated by the Norwegian Center for Holocaust and Minority Studies (HL-senteret) – in cooperation with Norweigan Peoples Aid (NPA) and our partner organisation Alliance of Iraqi Minorities (AIM).

The purpose of the workshop was to bring together a variety of Civil Society organizations, international scholars, local experts, representatives of linguistic minorities, and from Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Ministry of education to learn about and identify opportunities for supporting the minorities on that issue.

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Panel from Left to right: Hoger Chato, AIM Executive Manager, Kawa Omer Hamd, Director of Curriculum in the Ministry of Education KRG, Fernand de Varennes, UN special rapporteur on Minority Issues, and Hussam Abdulla, Chairman of the Board AIM. Photograph: Sara Hamdy/NPA

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AIM is focusing on changing the legislation and policy to respect minorities and provide legal protection. In addition to working on the capacity building of government and stakeholders to actively involve key actors in the protection of minorities, and raise public awareness on minority rights.

“For minorities to enjoy equal human rights they have to be active participants in the decision-making process, especially where their rights are concerned with education in their mother tongue.” Hoger Chato explained, AIM Executive Manager, emphasising on the rights of linguistic minorities.

AIM is an Iraqi civil society organization that seeks to protect and promote the rights of Iraqi minorities in a way that respects the rights and interests of all Iraqi people.

UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues Fernand de Varennes also attended the workshop, as part of his mandate to raise awareness of minorities rights.

The message shared by most educational experts is that children should first be taught in their own language. This will allow them to be more efficient in learning subjects in general, but also other languages.

Prof. John Packer, an expert on minority rights and diversity in education at the University of Ottawa, emphasized: “Article 4 of the Iraqi constitution has significant subsidiary provisions which create an unlimited opportunity for the use of other languages which community on a local level or the majority have chosen to use”, he added.

Public education not presented in a childs language could be deemed to be discrimination. In 1992, the United Nations issued the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, which includes articles on minorities from earlier international pacts, with additional details and guarantees. The Declaration contains a list of rights in favor of persons belonging to an ethnic, national, religious or linguistic minority, and obliges state parties “to protect the existence and the national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity of minorities.

“Minority children who are not taught in their own language encounter negative effects. If children are taught well especially in the early years of their education, they will be equipped to learn other subjects better”, said UN Special Rapporteur Fernand de Varennes.

The UN gathered a lot of evidence underlining that the best way to have peaceful inclusive societies where minorities are fully engaged and participate is to have their language used in a reasonable proportion in the regions they live so that they feel more equal.

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Kawa Omer Hamd, Director of Curriculum in the Ministry of Education in the KRG. Photo: Sara Hamdy/NPA

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The Ministry of Education in the Kurdistan Regional Government ensured the passage of Article 4 in Law No. 4, establishing primary education in their mother tongue for minorities in the Kurdistan Region.

“Minorities being educated in their language will strengthen the state, reduce the problems and create more stability,” said Kawa Omer Hamd, Director of Curriculum in the Ministry of Education in the KRG.

“KRG opened many schools for the Kurdish language in federal Iraq areas such as Sinjar and Kirkuk, but when ISIS took over, they closed all the schools”, Kawa added. According to him, more than 8000 teachers are employed by the KRG in those areas.

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Suria Mahmoud Ahmed, Director of Alshabak Women Association. Photo: Sara Hamdy/NPA

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For smaller minorities like Shabak, mostly Shia ethnic group settled in northern Iraq, teaching their mother tongue to their children is an everyday fight. “If nobody protected us, we will vanish. There is no formal entity to protect the Shabaki language. I paid for grammar books to be printed using my own money. 1000 copies were printed, but unfortunately, ISIS burned them all”, said Suria Mahmoud Ahmed, Director of Alshabak Women Association. After the liberation, she could not even find a copy to reprint the books.

For the Shabak community, every small step is a victory in the struggle to protect their language and culture. “Now we have a radio channel in Shabaki. I am calling for the international community to support the survival of the language.” Suria added.

Moreover, the representative from the KRG Ministry of Education underlined the importance of highlighting the history of minorities in the school books and in the national education program. To achieve this goal, he asked the attendees representing minorities to give the Ministry academic materials to add them to the history subject. “We are willing to do that, we just need your help”, he concluded.

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Registration gives many Rohingya refugees identification for the first time

By Alex St-Denis in Coxs Bazar, Bangladesh | 17 May 2019

Nasima Aktar is among hundreds of thousand..

By Alex St-Denis in Coxs Bazar, Bangladesh | 17 May 2019

Nasima Aktar is among hundreds of thousands of stateless Rohingya — many of whom have spent a lifetime without official documentation — for whom getting an official identity card is a significant step.

“We want documents for Rohingyas. This is our document,” says Aktar, who recently received a plastic identity card bearing her basic biodata, photo and country of origin in a registration drive in Bangladesh.

There are more than 900,000 Rohingya refugees like Nasima living in crowded settlements in southeast Bangladesh of whom an estimated 741,000 have fled a violent crackdown by the Myanmar military since August 2017.

“Having an identity is a basic human right … its also an incredible step into a more dignified life.”

Despite living in Myanmar for generations they were not able to acquire formal citizenship and documentation that comes with this, leaving them stateless and deprived of basic rights.

She is now among more than a quarter of a million Rohingya refugees who have been registered in a push since June last year by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, in support of the Bangladesh government, in an effort that also helps to safeguard their right to voluntarily return home to Myanmar.

“Having an identity is a basic human right,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi during a recent visit to Coxs Bazar. “And remember: many of these people, all their life, did not have a proper identification. So, for them, its also an incredible step into a more dignified life.”

To date, a total of 270,348 refugees have been registered in the settlements of Ukhia and Teknaf Upazilas. On average, over 4,000 refugees are being registered a day in the exercise, with the aim of concluding the registration of all those in the settlements late this year.

The exercise also improves the accuracy of data on refugees in Bangladesh, which will help the authorities and humanitarian partners to better understand the needs of the refugee population. It will allow them to plan and target assistance more effectively, particularly for vulnerable groups such as children, women, and those with disabilities.

Refugees are registered using biodata and biometric data, including fingerprints and iris scans to provide them with a unique identity. At the end of the registration process, refugees receive a plastic ID card that includes a photo, and basic information such as date of birth and gender. Only refugees over the age of 12 receive the card but families also receive an attestation showing the details of all family member.

All information on the documents is in English and Bengali and indicates Myanmar as the country of origin. The documents were developed in cooperation with the Bangladesh government and carries both government and UNHCR logos.

“They understand that this exercise has nothing to do with forcible return,” UNHCR registration officer Nurul Rochayati explains. “This exercise is to establish their protection in here, and to establish their right to return. They will return when theyre safe, in safety and dignity.”

To better explain the benefits of registration, UNHCR and the Bangladesh authorities in recent months held meetings with the community including with leading Rohingya figures, such as imams, elders and teachers. Community outreach teams, that include refugees, go out regularly to talk about the registration process and encourage people to attend.

With the cyclone season underway, registration will also help reunite families in case they get separated during storms.

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Violence has pushed thousands of children in Honduras and El Salvador out of school

Almost half of all children surveyed living in neighbourhoods where criminal gangs are present in Ho..

Almost half of all children surveyed living in neighbourhoods where criminal gangs are present in Honduras and El Salvador do not have access to education, according to new reports by the Norwegian Refugee Council.

“Criminal violence is wreaking havoc on the lives of countless children in El Salvador and Honduras. Bright futures are being stolen every time that children are too afraid to attend school, and are forced to drop out. The future of an entire generation of boys and girls is at risk,” warned Christian Visnes, country director of the Norwegian Refugee Council in Colombia.

Two new reports called “A Generation Out Of School” found that children living in areas with violence in El Salvador and Honduras experience pressure, intimidation, sexual harassment and traumatic abuse by criminal groups. Their daily walk to school is dangerous and involves passing through gang territory or staying limited to one side of the community to not stray into rival gang territory.

Violent criminal groups are also present in classrooms and playgrounds. Gang members have succeeded in infiltrating the schools themselves and routinely promote the sale of drugs to minors, extort teachers and students, and carry out recruitment, surveillance and intelligence activities.

“My older kids werent able to study. I wanted them to graduate, but it wasnt possible. All my children have fled from the violence”, said a parent in Tegucigalpa.

In some areas, families are pressured to pay war taxes to criminal groups. They are then often unable to pay for uniforms and school materials for the children who continue to attend classes despite the many risks. Many families surveyed said that they do not feel safe in their homes. Only one third plan on staying in their homes, the rest plan on leaving their neighborhoods to find somewhere safer to live in their countries, or are completely unsure about their futures.

“Ending the systemic violence starts in the classroom. We need international support to make schools safe places to learn and grow, so that the next generation of Hondurans and Salvadorans dont turn to criminal gangs,” said Visnes.

Key Figures

  • For the past four years, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) interviewed more than 5,000 households in communities affected by violence in Honduras and El Salvador, to identify children who have been forced to drop out of school, in order to provide opportunities for them to return to school.
  • The reports reveal that half of all children interviewed are out of school in Honduras while 40 per cent are out of school in El Salvador. In total, 3,400 children surveyed living in neighbourhoods where criminal gangs are present in both Honduras and El Salvador are out of school.
  • Families reported that they do not feel safe, and only a third plan on staying in their current homes in Honduras, while in El Salvador one of every two families plan on staying in their current homes.
  • The impact of violence on daily life was tangible throughout NRCs research. As a result of violence, such as homicides in the community or tensions after police raids, NRC had to suspend its activities several times during the research period, and the whole operation took double the amount of time planned.
  • Reports were funded by the European Commission’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and NORAD.

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Growing insecurity in Tripoli endangers displaced civilians and migrants as armed clashes enter second month

Geneva – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is concerned about the deteriorating hum..

Geneva – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Tripoli and neighbouring areas.

According to IOM Libyas Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM), there are now over 66,000 displaced individuals, approximately 13,310 families, from affected areas in Tripoli since the onset of the armed conflict on 4 April. The rapidly increasing displacement figures are worrying as fighting intensifies in the absence of a humanitarian ceasefire. DTMs Emergency Event Tracking, activated on 05 April, is helping to identify instances of displacement, as well as consolidating and disseminating vital information IOM uses to plan the broader humanitarian communitys response.

The situation is especially alarming for over 3,300 migrants, among them children and pregnant women.

“While our teams on the ground continue to provide emergency humanitarian assistance to conflict-affected populations, we recognize that more needs to be done from all sides to ensure the safety of civilians,” said Othman Belbeisi, IOM Libya Chief of Mission. “We are worried about the dramatically deteriorating humanitarian situation in Tripoli and reiterate that there is an urgent need to end the detention of migrants in Libya and stop displacement.”

On 10 May, a migrant boat departing Zwara, Libya capsized off the Tunisian coast, and 59 lives were lost. This brings the death toll in the Central Mediterranean Route to 316 so far this year, and 502 for all Mediterranean Sea routes. Since the beginning of the clashes, 871 migrants have been returned to Libya and placed in detention, bringing the total number of migrants repatriated to Libya to 2,813 this year.

IOM is concerned about the return of migrants to an unsafe port and their placement in often overcrowded detention centres where conditions are not acceptable. While we provide health assistance, non-food items, emergency food assistance and Voluntary Humanitarian Return support to migrants wishing to return home, we reiterate that IOM cannot guarantee the protection of detained migrants and continues to call for an urgent end to detention.

Despite security challenges, IOM emergency interventions continue, in 11 detention centres within and near Tripoli; in locations for internally displaced families, and across Libya. Since 4 April 1,402 migrants have returned to 19 countries of origin with support from IOMs Voluntary Humanitarian Return programme.

The joint Rapid Response Mechanism launched by IOM, UNFPA, WFP and UNICEF, has reached so far 18,210 individuals with much-needed core relief items. Moreover, 2,511 migrants and internally displaced persons have been provided with health assistance including 58 hospital referrals.

IOM Tunisia reported that Fridays tragedy began about 60 kilometers from Tunisian waters 7 May, when a vessel carrying 75 migrants, mainly Bangladeshi nationals, made an attempt to reach Europe. During the night of 9 May, Tunisian fishermen were able to rescue 16 people from the overcrowded craft. Tunisian naval units continue to seek information on the voyage; to date only three bodies have been rescued. One of those victims has been identified.

Tunisian authorities took four survivors to Zarzis Hospital, where two remain in critical condition. Of the rescued, 14 are Bangladeshi (including two unaccompanied minors) one is Egyptian, one is Moroccan. Those not hospitalized have been hosted by the Tunisian Red Crescent.

A second rescue took place on Saturday, 11 May. Tunisian fishermen rescued sixty-nine migrants, including Moroccans, Eritreans, Somalis, Bangladeshi and an Egyptian. Among them, were four women and at least 25 minors, including children aged three to seven years.

Those 69 rescued migrants, since transferred to Sfax, are thought to have left Libya on 7 May, at the same time those on the shipwrecked boat departed.

IOM teams mobilized to provide medical, psycho-social and food assistance to survivors. “It is essential to put in place efficient mechanisms to respond to humanitarian emergencies, not the least of which are attempts of irregular crossings on the Mediterranean,” said Lorena Lando, Head of IOM mission to Tunisia. “We must act now and together,” she added.

From 9-12 May, the Tunisian coastguard and naval units conducted prevention operations that thwarted attempts at irregular crossings from Sfax, Sousse, Monastir, Bizerte and Tunis, with more than 100 migrants at the beginning of the season.

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