Iraq, along with Somalia and Sudan, are the three most dangerous places on the planet to be a member of a minority group, a new report from a human rights NGO in the United Kingdom says.
The newly released world rankings place Somalia first, Iraq second and Sudan third. Minority women in all three nations are worst off, facing a triple threat due to religion, ethnicity and gender.
The findings of the report are consistent with anecdotal evidence gathered by World Vision staff leading up to the organisation's recent declaration of a Category III emergency around the 700,000 Iraqi refugees in Jordan, said Sharon Payt, advocacy director for World Vision MEER.
"The report confirms what has been told to us by refugees and partner organisations working with these Iraqis in the Jordanian capital," Ms Payt said. The report, State of the World's Minorities 2007 by Minority Rights Group International (MRG), was released last week.
World Vision is carrying out both relief work through partners among Iraqi refugees in Amman, Jordan, and an advocacy strategy through World Vision offices around the Partnership and in coalition with agencies like the UNHCR.
"The situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate... What is less well publicized is the particular plight of Iraq's smaller communities, the 10 per cent of the population who are not Shia Arab, Sunni Arab or Sunni Kurd," the report says.
"Women across Iraq, many of them non-Muslims, have reported numerous death threats for failing to fully cover their heads and bodies in line with strict Islamic teachings. The Women's Rights Association of Baghdad reported in March 2006 that, since the 2003 invasion, the number of women attacked for failing to cover their heads and faces had more than tripled... Across Iraq, kidnappings, rapes and sexual slavery of women have increased," the report says.
The authors cite another MRG report dealing exclusively with Iraqi minorities, Assimilation, Exodus, Eradication: Iraq's Minority Communities Since 2003. It was released only a month earlier.
"...the impact of the conflict on some minority groups has been so acute that they are in danger of being driven out entirely from a territory they have called home for hundreds – in some cases, thousands – of years. They are targeted on sectarian and/or ethnic grounds, and face added danger from the perception that they cooperate with American-led forces," the Iraq minorities report says.
Preti Taneja, a British journalist and Cambridge theology graduate writing for MRG, is the author of the Iraqi minorities report. She said in an interview with World Vision, "The situation is extremely dangerous. We can't take away what these people have suffered but we have to do all we can to mitigate what they are facing now."
The State of the World's Minorities quotes the UNHCR and other sources saying Iraqi refugee populations in neighbouring Jordan and Syria are made up of 30% and 46% minorities respectively