The hopes of the Kurdish refugees in Iraq will fade if they vote in Iran

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Stuck in Iraq for decades due to a lack of documents, Kurdish refugees from neighboring Iran are watching the elections in the Islamic Republic this week with little hope of change.

One of them, Behzad Mahmoudi, died after setting himself on fire last month outside a UN office in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi autonomous Kurdistan.

His death highlighted the plight of refugees in the Iraqi limbo.

“The UN doesn’t want to see us or hear our problems,” said Ashkan Mirani, an Iranian Kurd in a UN refugee camp outside of Erbil.

Four months ago, Mirani decided to go to Europe with his pregnant wife and four-year-old daughter.

They were smuggled from Iraq to Turkey, where they boarded a boat in the Black Sea with around 120 other would-be migrants.

“After an hour on the boat, we got strong waves. We all thought we were going to die,” said the 30-year-old.

“Thanks to the Afghan refugees who called the Turkish coast guard … they came to our aid.”

– hardness –

Ten years ago, Mirani joined a Kurdish opposition party in Iran in hopes of improving the lives of his people.

But life there was “unbearable and uninhabitable due to economic and political hardship,” he said.

“And here … I can’t promise my family that tomorrow will be better than today. The only solution I can think of is to reach Europe again.”

Today he fights every day to feed his children – a task that, according to the UN, is twice as difficult for refugees as it is for citizens of Iraq, whose lives have been ravaged by decades of war and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Baghdad is denying citizenship to Iranian refugees, even those who have lived in the country for more than 40 years.

According to the UN, 16,000 Kurdish refugees lived in Iraq until 2003 under the late dictator Saddam Hussein. There are now more than 10,700, the vast majority in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Arbil will only issue them with a residence permit that allows them to work and travel in the three provinces of the Autonomous Region if they can find a sponsor. Baghdad does not recognize their validity.

In other words, the only way out for them is asylum in a third country – but only a few applications are accepted by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

– ‘Zero Belief’ –

Sawen Goran, 29, was born in Erbil after her parents emigrated from Iran.

“My father died without being able to return to Iran,” she told AFP. “I’m afraid that one day my children will say the same thing about their mother and father.”

But without a regime change, she cannot imagine moving to her homeland.

It’s an option she “doesn’t believe” in.

And with the ultra-conservative Ebrahim Raisi, who is considered to be the front runner in the Iranian presidential elections on Friday, Moustafa Ibrahim and his wife Fatima Pirozee are dejected about the result.

“I have no confidence in the Iranian presidential election,” said Ibrahim, 67, who has been a political refugee in Iraq for 40 years.

“The candidates are the faces of a coin. Nothing will change. In Iran, post-election elections will only get worse.”

Eight years ago, Ibrahim said he believed change was possible when then-candidate Hassan Rouhani promised to include Kurdish in the curriculum and help develop Kurdish regions.

But Ibrahim said that once Rouhani became president, nothing was done.

His 60-year-old wife is more concerned about the ongoing negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program.

“The Iranian regime will repress its people more if the economic sanctions are lifted,” she said.

“More money for the Iranian regime means more support for the Iranian proxy militias in the region.”

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