“Even though we are Arab and from southern Iraq, the Kurdish people of Arbot have been kind to us and have been bringing us food and water and other things, we need,” An older woman told members of the Iraqi Kurdistan Christian Peacemaker Team, as they sat with her family on a large rug in the entry way of an abandoned school building, now in disrepair. On the edges of the town of Arbot, Iraq, southeast of Suleimani, are two tent camps, one for Syrian refugees and the other now being used for families recently displaced by violence in other parts of Iraq.
This Sunni family of about 16 fled their home on a farm in the Babel Province, south of Baghdad six months ago when Iraqi forces started bombing Islamic State (IS) forces in that area. The family stayed in several other temporary shelters in the south before traveling north to the Kurdish region a month ago. Later they heard that their home in Babel had been destroyed in the attacks.
“Our children play with the other children here in the neighborhood. But we are not sure whether they will go to the local Kurdish school near-by, or if they will go to a school for the Syrian refugees, taught in Arabic.”
About a month before meeting this family, there had been a public demonstration in Suleimani, where young Kurdish men protested the influx of Arab Iraqis into the Kurdish region, shouting “Get out, get out, Arabs.” CPTers were glad to hear that in response to this, a coalition of Kurdish individuals and organizations are discussing this issue, and are making public statements to counter expressions of hate or prejudice against particular ethnic groups.
In the past weeks, the team has been witnessing an outpouring of caring among the people of the Kurdish region for the needs of minority groups in northern Iraq, fleeing the violence of the IS forces. Many have been donating food, clothing, and other supplies for them. Now, here in this small Kurdish town, the local people have opened their hearts and lives to this Arab Iraqi family from southern Iraq.
“Our family could go to the Arbot Camp, but we would rather stay here where we have more privacy as a family, are out of the heat of the sun, and have this relationship with our Kurdish neighbors. Someday, we hope we can return to Babel and rebuild our home—of course, when services are restored, and there is peace.”