Iraq: Thousands of students protest in Iraqi Kurdistan over lack of aid | International

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University students demonstrate in Iraqi Kurdistan for the regional government to reinstate the scholarships it suspended in 2015.SHWAN MOHAMMED (AFP)

Thousands of students have demonstrated this Wednesday, for the fourth consecutive day, in the main cities of Iraqi Kurdistan. The protests, in principle to ask that scholarships be restored to university students, highlight the economic crisis that the autonomous government is going through. Significantly, 80% of Iraqis trying to reach the European Union from Belarus come from this region of northern Iraq.

In view of the complaints, the Kurdistan regional government has decided to allocate a budget to help students of universities and institutes, according to an official spokesperson quoted by the information network Esta. It is not clear if that promise will be enough to calm the spirits of young Kurds, whose protests have been harshly repressed according to local media.

The Kurdistan government suspended student stipends in 2015, due to the economic crisis caused by falling oil prices, the fight against the so-called Islamic State and the wave of internally displaced people who arrived from other areas of the country. Until then, university and high school students received between 30,000 and 100,000 Iraqi dinars (between 18 and 61 euros) a month. Now, young people consider that the circumstances that led to the interruption of aid have already been overcome.

Both the demonstrations and the migratory flow are especially striking because Iraqi Kurdistan has become a refuge for the inhabitants of the rest of the country thanks to its good security. In fact, the region remained on the sidelines of the protests that Baghdad and other cities in southern Iraq experienced in 2019 due to the population’s fed up with the lack of basic services. However, deep-rooted corruption has exacerbated economic problems and younger generations complain of difficulty finding work without plugs. The lack of expectations pushes many to emigrate, as Aryan Zellmi told MRT a few days ago.

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The protests, which began last Sunday in Suleimaniya, have spread to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, as well as Rania, Halabja and Kalar, according to local media. The Rudaw television network reports on its website the use of tear gas to disperse concentrates at the University of Suleimaniya, which has led several students to require medical attention. He has also denounced that the police made information work difficult: one of his reporters was expelled from the campus and in Erbil the press was prevented from accessing the University of Medicine where the demonstration was taking place.

Several political parties in the Kurdish parliament on Tuesday condemned the use of force against protesters. Last December, teachers and other officials protested to demand full payment of their salaries, which also suffered cuts under the 2015 austerity measures. They complained that they had not received full or on-time salaries for most of the year.

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