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Iraqi Kurds exiles in own country

By CNN's Brent Sadler

Families struggle in waste ground of Benswala refugee camp
Families struggle in waste ground of Benswala refugee camp

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ERBIL, Iraq (CNN) -- Many Kurds are exiles in their own country eking out a survival among the dirt and waste-ground of the desert's so-called safe-havens.

One of those refugee camps is Benswala, close to Erbil in northern Iraq, which is a dirt-trodden waste-ground in the desert. The best homes are made of mud and straw while the worse off make do in a patchwork of tents. Families who struggle to exist here are exiles, Kurdish exiles, in their own country.

They are subject to a new policy from Iraqi President leader Saddam Hussein, which allows Kurds and other minorities the chance to stay only if the disavow their non-Arab heritage, and register themselves as Arabs.

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Kurds dispute residency rules. CNN's Brent Sadler reports (October 21)
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These people are the losers in a presidential strategy to dilute, if not eradicate, a Kurdish presence in strategic areas -- especially here, near the oil-rich Kirkuk region.

Kirkuk, just 40 miles (60 kilometres) away, was the home of Marwan Taher and his family. He shows us paperwork which he says explains how they were forced to leave, abandoning all their possessions.

"They told us we should change our nationality ... to be Arab if you want to stay," Marwan said through a translator.

This is little more than a dumping ground for the Iraqi president's unwanted Kurds, victims of an official Baghdad policy to change the population of Kirkuk, forcing Kurds out and putting Arabs in. Kurds call it Saddam's version of ethnic cleansing.

It is not new. Iraq's Muslim Sunni Arab rulers have been applying similar policies for decades to tighten their grip on restive minorities.

Kurds have been herded into collectives since the late 1980s. In a nearby refugee camp another marooned family, that of Lukman Shurj says he was an Iraqi soldier in Kirkuk until he was forced out.

They are sick of seeing their lives waste away, they say. "We live in mud," says Lukman's wife, Suzanne. "And we work in mud ... this is our life."

Lukman spells out what he wants."America," he says. Even more so, the U.N. should force Saddam's regime to collapse so he can go on trial, he adds.

If not, they fear, their aimless lives might only get worse.

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