Ahwazi: Refugees in Precarious Situation in Syria
As ties between
Below is an article written by Rania Abouzeid and published by the Christian Science Monitor:
He's all too aware of his increasingly precarious status in
When Abu Sana (not his real name) came here a year ago, he thought he would find a safe haven among his fellow Sunni Arabs. He's a young political leader who belongs to the small Ahwaz ethnic minority in
But, now, as a result of the strengthening alliance between
His concerns are not unfounded. Five of his political activist friends were nabbed by Syrian security services in early March. Like Abu Sana, most were students, and all were registered with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) office in
Abu Sana, a member of the opposition Ahwazi Liberation Organization, worries that if he's picked up by Syrian police he'll miss his opportunity to be resettled by UNHCR in the
"I feel like a caged bird that is going to be slaughtered and knows it," he says in hushed tones in a noisy cafe. "I beg the world to protect this bird."
Anti-Western alliance strengthens
The two countries have recently strengthened their defensive ties, inking two agreements on military cooperation, one in 2006 and another in March.
"We consider the capacity of the Syrian defensive forces as our own and believe that expansion of defensive ties would ... help deal with threats of the enemies," he said.
The five Ahwazis seized on March 5 this year (who were later released in
"That should never have happened," says Laurens Jolles, UNHCR representative in
The Syrian government denies handing "prisoners of conscience" over to
Arab Sunnis in Shiite
Forbidden from speaking Arabic, the Ahwazi population of
Miloon Kothari, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, highlighted the living conditions in Khuzestan following his visit to
"There are thousands of people living with open sewers, no sanitation, no regular access to water, electricity, and gas connections," he said. "In deprived neighborhoods, you can actually see the towers of the oil refineries and the flares and all that money, which is a lot, and it's going out of the province."
"People feel like the central government hasn't tended to them like it should," says Karim Sadjadpour, a Washington-based analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "There's a sense among some Ahwazis that the reason they're neglected is not because of geography, but perhaps because they're Arab and Sunni, rather than Shiite and Persian."
Tensions exploded in April 2005 when militants launched attacks against oil installations.
Several different Ahwazi opposition groups claimed responsibility for the attacks.
"The Iranian security apparatus has clamped down in the region and detained hundreds of people," Hadi Ghaemi, a New York-based