Gypsies have been living in both Iraq and the KRI for centuries, contributing to the country’s cultural diversity. Nonetheless, they have occupied a unique social positionality characterised by stigmatisation at all levels of society, including government institutions. Since 2003 in Mosul, and since 2008 in the KRI, there has been an evident reluctance on the part of both governments and NGOs to recognise, and respond to, the humanitarian, development, and protection needs of Gypsy populations. This has rendered Gypsies vulnerable during conflict, displacement, or state fragility. Stigmatisation has also marginalised Gypsy communities, excluding them from public services, support provision or peacebuilding initiatives. The widespread, insidious nature of anti-Gypsy racism and discrimination has enabled the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to neglect the needs of Gypsy communities in post-conflict Iraq without consequence.
This policy paper and comparative analysis briefly examines experiences of conflict, displacement and post-conflict priorities, as narrated by Gypsy communities in Dohuk Municipality and Mosul. Foremost among these priorities are access to a safe environment, good healthcare, and quality education for their children – basic human rights that Gypsy children in neither location are currently able to enjoy adequately. This policy paper urges the Government of Iraq and the KRG to respond to the needs of their Gypsy populations – to facilitate intentional, considered, and long-term assistance and protection which will raise Gypsy communities out of a desperate cycle of poverty, and fully integrate them into society as equals.
(1) Key Recommendations for the Iraqi Federal and/or Kurdistan Regional Governments:
1A. Identity and Human Rights
- Consult Gypsy communities across Iraq and the KRI to establish their needs, priorities, and perspectives on development, community rights, social cohesion, peace, and citizenship.
- Design and roll out anti-discrimination, sensitisation, and public awareness campaigns aimed at countering negative stereotypes about Gypsies.
- Prioritise distribution of ID cards for Gypsies which do not state the ethnicity of the bearer.
- Provide Gypsy homes (including Rizgari village) with infrastructure (e.g. paved streets) and public services.
- Identify suitable partners with experience in education and minority inclusion to design and deliver training for teachers on inclusive education and non-discrimination.
- Facilitate children’s access to primary and secondary schools, by removing barriers and providing government-funded transport for those school-aged children who must walk further than 1km to school.
- Review and amend the education curriculum across both Iraq and KRI so that when learning about minorities, students learn that Gypsies are natives and have contributed to society in many ways.
- In Rizgari specifically, the KRI should provide a purpose-built primary school with the capacity to provide all primary-aged children in the village with quality education.
- Alongside private and public institutions, explore ways in which to improve employment opportunities for young men and women from Gypsy families across Iraq and the KRI through affirmative action. Such avenues into employment could include subsidised vocational training and paid apprenticeships.
(2) Key Recommendations for Civil Society and Peacebuilding Organisations
- Proactively network with Gypsy community leaders and any organisations already working with Gypsy communities to identify shared priorities.
- Prioritise inclusivity of dialogue-based events and activities by inviting Gypsy community leaders to participate.
- Promote recognition of Gypsies as natives of Iraq and the KRI and include Gypsies in any social cohesion initiatives or campaigns.
- Focus on reducing discrimination against Gypsies, rather than supporting policies and initiatives which place the onus on Gypsies to integrate without addressing the multiple barriers they face.