Kurds stick with independence vote, ‘never going back to Baghdad’

A boy rides a bicycle with the flag of Kurdistan in Tuz Khurmato, Iraq. (Reuters)
Updated 25 September 2017
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Kurds stick with independence vote, ‘never going back to Baghdad’

ERBIL, Iraq/ISTANBUL: Iraq’s Kurds will go ahead with a referendum on independence on Monday because their partnership with Baghdad has failed, Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani said on Sunday, shrugging off international opposition to the vote.
In response, the Iraqi government asked the autonomous Kurdish region to hand over control of its international border posts, its international airports and called on foreign countries to stop importing Kurdish crude oil.
It asked “the neighboring countries and the countries of the world to deal exclusively with the federal government of Iraq in regards to entry posts and oil,” according to a statement from Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi’s office.
The United States and other Western powers have urged Kurdish authorities in the oil producing region to cancel the vote, arguing that it distracts from the fight against Islamic State.
Turkey and Iran have also kept up the pressure to stop the vote, with presidents Tayyip Erdogan and Hassan Rouhani speaking by phone and expressing concern that it will “bring chaos in the region,” according to Erdogan’s office.
Barzani, at a news conference at his headquarters near Erbil, dismissed the worries of Iraq’s neighbors, committing to respect laws on international boundaries and not seek to redraw the region’s borders.
“We will never go back to the failed partnership” with Baghdad, he said, adding Iraq had become a “theocratic, sectarian state” and not the democratic one that was supposed to be built after the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
The vote, expected to result in a comfortable “yes” to independence, is not binding and is meant to give the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) a mandate to negotiate secession with Baghdad and the neighboring countries.
Barzani said Iraq’s Kurds would seek talks with the Shiite-led central government to implement the expected “yes” outcome, even if they take two years or more, to settle land and oil sharing disputes ahead of independence.
Abadi’s government in Iraq regards the referendum as anti-constitutional and in a televised address on Sunday he said it “could lead to ethnic divisions, exposing (the Iraqis) to disastrous dangers that only God knows.”

Earlier, Iranian authorities stopped air traffic to Iraqi Kurdistan’s international airports at Erbil and Sulaimaniya in response to a request from Baghdad, Fars News Agency said. Iran also started war games at the Kurdish border.
Speaking by telephone with Abadi, Iran’s Rouhani voiced support for Iraq’s national unity and territorial integrity, the state news agency IRNA reported.
“Iran fully supports Iraq’s central government,” Rouhani was quoted as telling Abadi.
On Saturday, Turkey’s parliament voted to extend by a year a mandate authorizing the deployment of Turkish troops in Iraq and Syria.
Turkey has also vowed political, economic and security steps without specifying what they are, but Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim reinforced the message on Sunday.
Turkey is the transit route of all crude exported by the landlocked Kurdistan region of Iraq.
“Turkey will never ever tolerate any status change or any new formations on its southern borders,” he said in a speech in the capital Ankara. “The KRG will be primarily responsible for the probable developments after this referendum.”
But Barzani said Ankara “won’t benefit” economically should it close the border with Iraqi Kurdistan.
Tehran and Ankara fear the spread of separatism to their own Kurds. Iran also supports Shiite groups who have been ruling or holding key security and government positions in Iraq since the U.S-led invasion which toppled Saddam Hussein.
Barzani said Kurds will “keep extending their hand” to Iran and Turkey, even if they do not reciprocate. He said he recently met in the Kurdish region Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander Qassem Soleimani, who came to convince him to delay the vote.
The KRG has resisted calls to delay the referendum by the United Nations, the United States and Britain who fear it could lead to unrest in disputed areas like multi-ethnic oil-rich Kirkuk, as well as distracting from the war on Islamic State.
But the Iraqi Kurds say the vote acknowledges their crucial contribution in confronting Islamic State after it overwhelmed the Iraqi army in 2014 and seized control of a third of Iraq. Kurdish Peshmerga fighters who control Kirkuk were given instructions not to respond to any provocation meant to disrupt the vote, but they will defend the region if attacked from outside, he said.
The US embassy in Iraq warned its citizens that there might be unrest during the referendum, especially in disputed areas like Kirkuk, also claimed by the Iraqi central government.
The Iranian military drills, part of annual events held in Iran to mark the beginning of the 1980-1988 war with Iraq, were launched in the Oshnavieh border region, according to Iranian State broadcaster IRIB.
Turkey’s military said on Sunday its aircraft launched strikes against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets in northern Iraq’s Gara region on Saturday after spotting militants preparing to attack Turkish military outposts on the border.


Migrants in Lebanon seek to break stereotypes with new radio show

Updated 18 July 2018
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Migrants in Lebanon seek to break stereotypes with new radio show

  • Migrant domestic workers can be treated like they are invisible, and this radio show can change the way they are perceived by illustrating and highlighting the multi-faceted dimensions of their identities and lives
  • Projects like the Lebanese radio program could be used across the region to change attitudes toward migrants

BEIRUT: Since arriving in Lebanon, Sudanese migrant worker Abdallah Afandi has been turned away from beach resorts, mistaken for a cleaner and prevented from renting an apartment — all because of the color of his skin.
Now he is hoping to challenge the “racism and prejudice” he says he has encountered by taking part in Lebanon’s first radio show to be hosted and produced by migrants from countries such as Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and the Philippines.
The aim is to give Lebanese people a greater understanding about where migrants come from to create the tolerance and respect that local migrant rights groups say is lacking.
“Many Lebanese see Sudanese only as cleaners and workers — we want them to see us in a different way,” Afandi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The 27-year-old came to Lebanon seven years ago when he no longer felt safe in his home of Darfur in western Sudan, where conflict had raged since 2003.
He now earns a living preparing food in a restaurant and doing maintenance work in a Beirut residential building.
Afandi’s episode is one of a series airing on Voice of Lebanon, a popular independent radio station, featuring migrants talking about their own food and culture as well as the issues they face in Lebanon.
In it, he and two other Sudanese migrants discuss their country’s pyramids and interview Sudan’s ambassador to Lebanon on migrant rights.
“I want to use my voice so that people in Lebanon understand where I come from, my culture, music, food — so they will look beyond what I do for a living, and the color of my skin,” he said.
KAFALA
Migrant workers in Lebanon and much of the Middle East work under the kafala sponsorship system, which binds them to one employer.
Rights groups have blamed the system for abuse of migrant workers and say it leaves them vulnerable to exploitation by denying them the ability to travel or change jobs.
Race is also a factor — last month two Kenyan women migrant workers suffered an attack that Lebanon’s justice minister condemned as “shocking” and “abhorrently racist” after footage of them being beaten was circulated on social media.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said projects like the Lebanese radio program could be used across the region to change attitudes toward migrants.
“This radio show is a brilliant example to be replicated across the region, and to bring attention to stories ‘by migrants’,” said spokeswoman Farah Sater Ferraton.

’NOT FOREIGN’
The show — whose name “Msh gharib” means “not foreign” in Arabic — has been in the works since 2017 and was created by the Anti-Racism Movement, a local non-government organization, with the help of migrants from the community center it runs.
“The title of the show really communicates its purpose — migrants are not ‘the other’. Their voices and stories shouldn’t be ‘foreign’ to Lebanese,” said Laure Makarem, spokeswoman for the center.
“Migrant domestic workers can be treated like they are invisible, and this radio show can change the way they are perceived by illustrating and highlighting the multi-faceted dimensions of their identities and lives.”
The 15 episodes will air in the next few months and are mainly in Arabic, with small sections in the hosts’ native language — particularly when talking about their rights in Lebanon.
Tarikwa Bekele, a 33-year-old domestic worker, is working on one episode with fellow Ethiopians, who make up the biggest migrant group in Lebanon at more than 100,000 people.
They are planning to talk about Ethiopian traditions, famous athletes and a famous model in the hope of showing Lebanese that Ethiopians are not “just working in houses and cleaning bathrooms,” said Bekele.
“There are so many Ethiopians working in Lebanon,” said Bekele. “Once they can see that we are like them — like any other country — I think they will treat us better. Treat us with respect.”

Funding for this story was supported by a fellowship run by the International Labour Organization and the Ethical Journalism Network.