Dom Research Center   News Clippings: Iraq

Gypsies call for greater rights



BAGHDAD, 3 Mar 2005 (IRIN) - The small village of al-Zuhoor, in Diwanya governorate, 180 km south of Baghdad, is home to a community of gypsies who are living in mud houses and tents.

Their story is largely untold as they endure poor conditions without social help, healthcare or education.

There are no official statistics on the total number of gypsies in Iraq, but their tribal leaders say there are more than 60,000 in the country, with 11,000 in Diwanya. Some 4,000 of them, from both the Sunni and Shi'ite communities, live in al-Zuhoor.

Despite the lack of help and the fact that the nearest polling centre was 20 km away, the community went to vote in the 30 January poll. Pictures of interim Iraqi Prime Minster Iyad Allawi can be found in many of their homes in the village, as they believe in him and say that he can offer them protection.

Some of them, unaware of the results, asked out loud who had won the historic election, praying that Allawi would stay as prime minister.

Naseer Abd al-Ameer, a 28-year-old gypsy, spoke about why he went to the polls. "We participated in the elections because we want a united Iraq, freedom and democracy," he told IRIN. "We are also grateful to the national guard for their protection during the elections," he continued.

During Saddam Hussein's rule, gypsies were reasonably well treated and given shelter. But after the 2003 conflict, as people returned to the village, many were forced out and are living in tents or have built mud homes.

"We hope the government will pay more attention to our people and maybe we can go abroad to get mercy and humanity like other gypsies in the world," Faleh Yza, told IRIN in the village.

Shaima, a gypsy woman, who was selling beer in front of her tent while her children were playing around her, told IRIN life was hard: "We live here without any healthcare or education or electricity, water supplements or protection from the fundamentalists. We cannot quit singing or dancing this is our job and has been for years in fact, hundreds of years," Shaima added.

In general, the gypsies are looked down upon by the rest of society and are often found selling alcohol. Some are forced to turn to commercial sex work to earn a living, according to local people.

"We live in an Islamic society and these people’s [gypsies] actions against tradition and religion are not accepted. We do not want them near us and the government must find a solution for them," Kadum Abd al-Jabar, 48, told IRIN.

Others believe gypsies should have equal rights in the new Iraq.

"The gypsies are Iraqi citizens like us, they have the right to live in a free way and the government must protect them and offer them all the help they need," Mustafa Basem, a 25-year-old university student, told IRIN.

"Our life is so difficult here, our house, schools, our electricity and water station was ruined by the Mehdi army [fighters loyal to anti-US cleric Moqtada Sadr], and no one helped us at all or wants to help us," Hameed Matrood, leader of the gypsies in the village, told IRIN.

In 2003, after the fall of the previous regime, the Medhi army attacked the houses of the gypsies in Diwanya and they cut off the electricity and destroyed the only school there.

"We use river water for drinking, diseases are starting to appear among our children. No one cares about us, we live in these miserable tents, I hope we can get help from the Iraqi NGOs," Matrood added.

The Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS) told IRIN: "We do not know anything about the gypsies or their life or their suffering, we did not offer them any help or any projects, due to lack of information," Farduse al-Abadi, a spokesperson for IRCS, told IRIN.

But local government officials have responded positively to their needs. "Gypsies are Iraqi people as long as they carry Iraqi nationality, therefore they will be part of any developments or social administration in this governorate," Farooq Abd al-Mehdi, member of the local governorate in Diwanya, told IRIN.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of each individual author. The views and opinions do not represent those held by the Dom Research Center.

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