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“We want to live like other Iraqis” - Roma representatives meet with UNAMI Human Rights Office and IHCHR

Baghdad, 09 March 2020 - Representatives of the ‘Roma of Iraq’, an ancient ethnic community, took their concerns to the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR), seeking their support in advocating with the Government to improve their living conditions and guarantee them their rightful place in Iraqi society.

The ‘Roma of Iraq’, known in Arabic as ghajar, reportedly of ancient Indian origin, have long complained of prejudice, discrimination and poor living conditions. Their exact number is unknown as they, along with other communities, have never been counted based on their ethnicity. Six of their Sheikhs, each representing one of the Roma tribes, met with the UNAMI Human Rights Office (HRO) and the Office of the IHCHR Commissioner on Racial Discrimination, with the aim to identify the challenges affecting this community and the support that HRO and IHCHR could give to the Government in addressing their unfulfilled rights. The most pressing challenges their people face, according to the Sheikhs, include: an unresolved issue regarding their naturalization before 2003 that is still deemed “exceptional” and singles them out from other Iraqis; poor housing facilities in Baghdad and other Governorates caused by the confiscation of their properties given to them by the Government before 2003; systematic denial of employment opportunities on the basis of their ethnicity; lack of political representation at all levels of Government and the bureaucracy that has made it impossible for those who lost their relatives in military service or who died as a result of terrorist acts to be compensated. The Sheikhs requested HRO and IHCHR to advocate with the Government to allocate them land for housing and to provide them employment to improve their standard of living. They said they have lived in Iraq for centuries and deserve equal opportunities.Roma settlement

A taskforce to resolve such issues was created earlier this year, comprising the Co-existence and Societal Peace Committee under the Prime Minister’s Office, IHCHR and two NGOs together with UNAMI. The taskforce is already working on a housing project in Baghdad for the community, with plans underway. The taskforce will partner with the relevant Government entities to support the project to completion and to tackle other challenges raised.

The Sheikhs were also invited to designate one representative who will join the Minority Rights Working Group established in August 2019. The Working Group advocates for the implementation of the January 2019 recommendations of the UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The latter expressed concern about the Roma having difficulties in accessing employment, health care, housing and education and recommended that Iraq redoubles efforts to improve the integration of Roma into society, including by ensuring access to the above services.