Sulaymaniyah Metropolis, Iraq – On Might 18, Behzad Mahmoudi, a Kurdish asylum seeker from Iran, set himself on fireplace in entrance of the United Nations workplace in Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan Regional Authorities (KRG) of Iraq.
4 years in the past, the 26-year-old fled his house metropolis of Boukan in western Iran, hoping to discover a higher future away from the persecution and discrimination many Kurds in Iran say they face.
However when Mahmoudi arrived within the KRG, he was unable to discover a secure job or revenue. Determined for a method out, he utilized to the UN Excessive Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for momentary lodging and asylum in a 3rd nation. However his buddy instructed Al Jazeera that Mahmoudi’s requests went unanswered.
To protest the cruel dwelling circumstances within the KRG and what he perceived as delays from the UN in processing his utility to hunt asylum, Mahmoudi doused himself in petrol and flicked on a lighter as he stood in entrance of the UN workplace. Moments later, his physique was engulfed in a ball of flames.
Mahmoudi suffered extreme burns and died in hospital on account of his wounds per week later.
The younger man’s story displays the plight of tens of hundreds of Iranian Kurds who discover despair after fleeing to the KRG in hope of discovering a greater life.
As much as 35 million Kurds inhabit a mountainous area straddling the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia. They make up the fourth-largest ethnic group within the Center East, however they’ve by no means obtained a everlasting nation-state.
Almost 10 million Kurds stay in west Iran, alongside the borders of Iraq and Turkey. The ethnic minority has demanded extra political and cultural rights for the reason that Islamic Revolution of 1979.
Opposition events – together with the Kurdistan Democratic Occasion of Iran (KDPI) and the Democratic Occasion of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) established in northern Iraq – have waged an on-and-off armed battle towards the Iranian authorities in hope of building an autonomous Kurdish state.
Harsh dwelling circumstances
Mahmoudi’s buddy and fellow Iranian Kurd – who recognized himself solely as Grami for safety causes – is from West Azerbaijan province in Iran. He instructed Al Jazeera he accompanied his buddy the day he took his personal life.
Though Grami, 23, additionally deliberate on setting himself on fireplace, he deserted the transfer as he rushed to try to save his buddy as soon as Mahmoudi was ablaze.
Grami mentioned each younger males had been employed as building staff in Erbil on the time of the incident. Unable to afford lodging, they’d been dwelling at an unfinished building web site for a number of months.
“Mahmoudi and I have been shut. We labored onerous, however we all the time confronted monetary points, have been unemployed, or couldn’t afford secure lodging. We went to the UN a number of instances, however they didn’t reply to our requests for assist,” he mentioned in a telephone interview.
He added the final time the pair went to the UNHCR in workplace in Erbil, they weren’t allowed to enter.
“We threatened to burn ourselves in protest, however the guards mocked us and instructed us it might be higher to do in entrance of the headquarters,” he recounted.
In search of autonomy
Grami mentioned regardless of dealing with an imminent risk of deportation to Iran by Iraqi-Kurd authorities, and their repeated requests for assist, neither he nor Mahmoudi acquired any monetary help from the UN.
In accordance with Grami, each he and Mahmoudi have been civilian members within the Sazman Khabat, or Organisation of Iranian Kurdistan Battle, an armed political group based in 1980 by Iranian Kurds looking for autonomy for the ethnic minority. Grami mentioned as an activist he participated in a number of demonstrations in Iran.
Final 12 months, Iranian Kurd Mustafa Salimi, 53, who sought asylum within the KRG after escaping from a jail in Iran, was reportedly handed over by native Kurdish safety forces to Iranian authorities, who later executed him.
Salimi was reportedly amongst hundreds of detainees at eight prisons in Iran who staged protests over fears of the unfold of the coronavirus in jail cells.
Following the reviews, the KRG introduced it fashioned a particular committee to research the allegations. The findings of the committee have but to be introduced.
Criticism of the media
Mahmoudi’s self-immolation was caught on digital camera. Movies shared on social media confirmed him setting himself on fireplace as a couple of journalists holding microphones stood idly close by.
Recounting the occasions main as much as the incident, Grami mentioned after the 2 pals bought some gasoline, they phoned a bunch of journalists to share their plan. They have been instructed to fake to set themselves on fireplace.
“They reassured us that they might forestall us from truly burning ourselves. We have been going to desert the plan, however we felt ashamed to again out,” Grami mentioned. “So we went forward and waited for the journalists to cease us, however sadly the tragedy occurred.”
The day after the incident, the KRG’s division of media and data issued a press release condemning the actions of media organisations current, saying they’d “no regard for journalistic integrity and ethics nor the Kurdistan Area’s broadcasting legal guidelines and pointers”.
KRG authorities added they might take measures to stop such an incident from reoccurring.
“What we noticed confirmed grave disrespect for the ethics of journalism,” Mem Burhan, a KRG lawmaker and member of parliament’s cultural and civil society committee, instructed Al Jazeera.
“It was inhumane and immoral that journalists prioritised protecting the information over extinguishing the person on fireplace,” he added.
The obvious inaction of journalists in direction of Mahmoudi and perceived lack of concern from the UN sparked sharp criticism on social media and ignited protests over the tough dwelling circumstances of many Iranian Kurdish refugees and asylum seekers within the KRI.
Following the incident, dozens of Kurdish refugees from Iran protested in entrance of the UN workplace in Erbil, as KRG police reportedly used violence to disperse the demonstrators.
The protesters additionally submitted a letter to UN officers demanding extra rights, together with humanitarian assist, momentary lodging, and entry to healthcare for asylum seekers.
Within the nine-point letter, additionally they referred to as on the UN to “take immediate motion to course of the instances of political asylum seekers”, and differentiate them from social asylum seekers and refugees.
“Iranian Kurds looking for political asylum from the UN are probably the most marginalised group amongst refugees in Iraq,” Arsalan Yar Ahmadi, a board member at Hengaw Group for Human Rights in Kurdistan, instructed Al Jazeera. “They face every kind of injustices and discrimination.”
In accordance with Ahmadi, the UN stopped registering Iranian Kurds within the KRI as asylum seekers in 2006.
As an alternative, they’re being registered as refugees, he mentioned, estimating there have been “practically 30,000 Iranian Kurdish political asylum seekers within the KRG whose lives could be in peril in the event that they returned to Iran”.
“These asylum seekers get little monetary assist from the UN, and face many points regarding lodging, paperwork, healthcare, schooling, and discovering employment,” mentioned Ahmadi.
‘Constant refugee coverage’
Dismissing the allegations, UNHCR spokesperson Firas al-Khateeb mentioned the UN workplace in Erbil was processing all asylum-seeker instances based on requirements stipulated in worldwide refugee and humanitarian legal guidelines.
“We’re assessing the instances of 10,000 Iranian Kurds based on a constant refugee coverage. We evaluate every refugee or asylum-seeker case that we obtain,” al-Khateeb instructed Al Jazeera over the telephone.
“However in an effort to register somebody as an asylum seeker who can apply for UNHCR help, we should first be sure that they’re the truth is civilians, and never people with militant backgrounds.”
He defined refugees and asylum seekers ought to comply with “particular” procedures when looking for help from the UN, including selections on relocating asylum seekers to a 3rd nation was lower than the UNHCR, however slightly to the host international locations.
Whereas some Iranian Kurds within the KRG hope to be relocated to a 3rd nation, others have determined to remain.
Most of the latter have married Iraqi Kurds and have been dwelling within the KRG for greater than a decade. Many are but to be granted Iraqi citizenship.
In accordance with Iraqi legislation, a refugee who satisfies sure circumstances can apply for Iraqi citizenship. However the Iraqi structure stipulates that the authority to grant citizenship to foreigners is solely inside the remit of the federal authorities in Baghdad. Nonetheless, the KRG reportedly granted a number of Iranian Kurds citizenship in 2006.
Talking on situation of anonymity, one Iranian Kurd amongst that group instructed Al Jazeera that regardless of receiving his passport, his standing and residency within the KRG remained unclear.
“The Iraqi authorities doesn’t recognise the KRG’s authority to naturalise overseas residents,” he mentioned. “Our nationalities might be withdrawn from us at any time.”