Sugarcane projects are a disaster for indigenous Ahwazi Arabs, the member of parliament for Falahieh (Shadegan) Majid Naseri said this week in an attack on racism.
Naseri criticised the systematic discrimination in employment practices in the Ahwaz region's massive sugar industry that favour non-indigenous populations moved in from other provinces. He attacked the marginalisation of educated and unemployed indigenous Arabs.
The plantations themselves have involved the forced relocation of thousands of native Arabs and environmental destruction due to the amount of water they require and the run-off of agro-industrial pollutants.
In response to Naseri's criticism, an official said: "We import workers from other areas due to a lack of skilled workers in the province."
However, Ahwazi Arabs have criticised the lack of training opportunities offered by the government for the numerous industrial projects in their homeland. They also point out that the local labour market has not been fully exploited before bringing in non-local workers.
The plantations were the subject of strong condemnation from UN Special Rapporteur for Adequate Housing, Miloon Kothari, who said following a visit to the region in 2005: "When you visit Ahwaz in terms of the very adverse conditions in the neighbourhoods, there are thousands of people living with open sewers, no sanitation, no regular access to water, electricity and no gas connections. I think that the kind of question that arises is, why is that? Why have certain groups not benefited?
"You notice that we drove outside the city about 20 km and we visited the areas where large development projects are coming up - sugar cane plantations and other projects along the river - and the estimate we received is that between 200,000 - 250,000 Arab people are being displaced from their villages because of these projects...
"There is an attempt being made by the government to build new towns and bring in new people from other provinces. For example, there is the new town of Shirinshah where most of the people being brought into that town are people from Yazd province [in central Iran] - non-Arabs. So the question then is that these people who are being brought there, perhaps for work and lots of incentives, why is it that those jobs are not going to the locals?"
As a result of his criticism of ethnic discrimination in Iran, the Iranian regime has refused to allow any visits from any UN experts, including the Special Rapporteur on Iran Ahmed Shaheed, who has been banned from the country since he was appointed in 2010.
Contribution by Sheyma Ahwazi