“We’re Real Iraqis”: Securing Roma Rights and Integration

Despite the ongoing persecution and displacement of the Iraqi Roma since 2003, there is little information available on this social group compared to the country’s other minorities. This lack of information is symptomatic of decades of systematic discrimination and neglect at both governmental and social levels, resulting in devastating socio-political and socio-economic marginalization. Roma communities in Iraq are often characterized by lack of adequate clean water, electricity, education and health provision alongside pervasive poverty, resulting in the Roma comprising one of ‘the most vulnerable, disfavoured and at risk of all the marginalized groups in Iraq.’

This policy brief will examine the current socio-political and socio-economic circumstances of the Iraqi Roma in order to argue that decades (if not centuries) of discrimination, marginalization and social ostracization have facilitated the appalling poverty that many Iraqi Roma experience today. This brief will urge both the Iraqi Federal and Kurdistan Regional government (IFG and KRG) to prioritise addressing the marginalization of the Roma, whilst cautioning that policies and strategies to address this entrenched marginalization must be consultative, considered, and above all, long-term in their approach.

Key Recommendations


  • Both the IFG and KRG should work to remove barriers to Roma children accessing education by providing primary schools for Roma communities and providing free transport for their older children to attend their nearest high school.
  • In recognition of the grinding poverty experienced by Roma families which can contribute towards Roma children being removed from school in order to beg, Roma families should receive a financial stipend while their children attend school in order to encourage attendance.
  • University scholarships should be made available for Roma students; and especially for those who wish to enter healthcare or teaching professions, as they can directly contribute to community development upon graduation.


  • Provision of adequate clean water to all Roma communities should be prioritized.
  • Provision of health clinics for Roma communities should be prioritized. Where Roma communities are small in population mobile clinics could be utilized.


  • Where possible, Roma communities on squatted land should have their residences legally and safely regularized.
  • Arbitrary evictions should be ceased with immediate effect. Those who arbitrarily evict Roma households or communities should be subject to criminal proceedings and punished according to the law without discrimination and regardless of background or position.
  • Where physically possible, Roma communities should be provided with access to clean water and electricity, as well as safe, purpose-built structures in which to live. Houses should include provision of adequate sanitation, including a purpose-built toilet.


  • Adult literacy classes should be made available to Roma communities and families.
  • Vocational training programmes should be made available to Roma communities. Such vocational training should be delivered after accurate, region-specific market-research to ensure the marketability of skills, and should be provided after community consultation, thus enabling the Roma to take the lead in choosing their means of income generation.

Political / Social

  • Both the IFG and KRG should conduct a nationwide needs assessment of Roma communities as a matter of urgency. This needs assessment should be in the form of an open consultation, thereby enabling Roma participants to give contextual input.
  • National identification documents which make no reference to ethnicity and which do not carry the word ‘exception’ should be issued as a matter of priority.

Both the IFG and KRG should encourage Roma political representation at provincial council and parliamentary levels by including a number of Roma seats in parliamentary and relevant council quotas.

Full report here.

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About MERI:  The Middle East Research Institute is Iraq’s leading policy-research institute and think tank. It is an independent, entirely grant-funded not-for-profit organisation, based in Erbil, Kurdistan Region.  Its mission is to contribute to the process of nation-building, state-building and democratisation via engagement, research, analysis and policy debates.

MERI’s main objectives include promoting and developing human rights, good governance, the rule of law and social and economic prosperity. MERI conduct high impact, high quality research (including purpose-based field work) and has published extensively in areas of: human rights, government reform, international politics, national security, ISIS, refugees, IDPs, minority rights (Christians, Yezidis, Turkmen, Shabaks, Sabi mandeans), Baghdad-Erbil relations, Hashd Al-Shabi, Peshmarga, violence against women, civil society. MERI engages policy- and decision-makers, the civil society and general public via publication, focused group discussions and conferences (MERI Forum).


Photograph (c) Greg Constantine

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