Site icon Ahwazi Center For Human Rights

The Ahwazi Arabs, the unknown community in London


I would like to gratefully and sincerely thank Evelyn Oldfield Unit for their support and guidance and for giving me the

opportunity to carry out this community research. In particular, I would like to thank my tutor -Sarah Menzies- for her encouragement and patience.


I would also like to thank my excellent mentor Marta Perez Ramirez for her great support.

I am grateful to Matthews Igaga for his constant and friendly support.

I appreciate all participants who took part in the interviews and focus group.

Finally, and most importantly, I would like to thank my family for their support and encouragement.

Contents Page


Contents Page..

Executive Summary..

Chapter 1:.

(i) Central aim and research plan..

(ii) The purpose of your research..

(iii) Literature review….

(iv) Methodology..

(v) Ethical considerations..

Chapter 2: Research findings..

Chapter 3: Discussion..

Chapter 4..

(i) Conclusions..

(ii) Recommendations..

(iii) The strengths and limitations of research..



Executive Summary


The Ahwazi suffer from a systematic persecution when executing their right of assembly, or expression. The appalling living conditions have forced many Ahwazi Arabs to seek asylum in the UK. Their cause, however, is far from having reached public awareness and solidarity. This project seeks to highlight the lack of identity recognition of the Ahwazi community by exploring the main reasons behind this lack of recognition and its negative effects in the community. By doing this research it is expected to raise awareness and contribute to the improvement of the Ahwazi community situation in London.


One-to-one interviews, a focus group and desk research were used in this research in order to explore, discuss and analyze the causes of the lack or poor information concerning the identity recognition of Ahwazi community, the challenges they were facing and the desired solutions to those problems. The participants were senior community members, experts and other members of the community.

The findings showed that the lack of information about the Ahwazi community is a serious cause for concern and causes harmful effects in the community. The main cause seems to be the Iranian tight censorship policy, which had been carried out for decades against Ahwazis. Other factors such as being a relatively new community in London and cultural barriers contributed to the lack of awareness and knowledge of the community. The lack of recognition is translated in lack of support, thus producing or exacerbating the challenges faced by the community: poor integration, lack of self-confidence and community engagement, high rates of unemployment and worrying levels of depression. The community expressed their desired of having a community centre to further develop links with the local community and to keep raising awareness for its cause.

The Ahwazis in London are an unknown community and as a consequence, they face a variety of challenges. Several reasons merged and lead to their current situation, being the main reason the tight censorship carried out by the Iranian regimes during the past decades. The lack of awareness in regard of the Ahwazi community puts huge unpleasant effects on the community: poor level of integration, severe depression, high rate of unemployment and lack of support and services are some of the barriers face by the Ahwazi.

A group of Ahwazi activists in London and across UK must be set up, examine the scale of the problem in depth and look into awareness training programmes and workshops within the community. The Ahwazi community should develop a strategy to address the lack of awareness effectively as well as lobby for funds in order to establish a community centre.


Chapter 1:

(i) Central aim and research plan

The central aim of the research is to seek to fill the information gaps on the Ahwazi Arabs (i.e. lack of proof of identity) and to contribute to an improved understanding of the community reality in London, especially in the Borough of Southwark.

The long-term aim of the research is to improve the situation of the Ahwazi community. The research seeks to raise awareness of both local public authorities and the citizens on the Ahwazi situation by helping them to understand the Ahwazi challenges and showing the consequences of the lack of knowledge and, by result, the lack of public support.

I have chosen the Ahwazi community as a means to explain and analyse their challenges and needs, as well as to discover what they would like to see changed. I have done so by conducting one-to-one interviews and a focus group with members of the community, including politicians, cultural activists, housewives etc. At the same time, I have interviewed experts in the field to have a different point of view. With regards to the time frame, all the interviews and the focus groups have taken place in December 2014 and January 2015. Each interview was about 40-45 minutes and the focus group was about 2 hours. Secondary research has been used to complement the information provided by the interviews, focus group and to place the context and background of the Ahwazi community.

The research aims to answer the following questions:

  1. Who are the Ahwazi people and why they came to the UK
  2. The Ahwazi community experiences and challenges regarding immigration, integration and access to public services
  3. What can be done to improve the community situation and integration


With regards to the research plan, I will first explain who are the Ahwazi Arabs and the reasons behind their need of international protection using a variety of sources. To provide an outline description of the Ahwazi community experiences and challenges I have interviewed both Ahwazi community members and experts in the field. The findings are compared and analysed to improve the understanding of their needs and potential solutions, concluding remarks are presented and possible extensions of the analysis are suggested.

As an Ahwazi Arab refugee in the UK, who has suffered severe discrimination and suppression policy of the regime in Iran, I feel personally concerned about the current situation of the Ahwazi community in London and believe that this research, through improving understanding of the Ahwazi community, may help ameliorate our situation.

(ii) The purpose of your research

The main purpose of the research is to improve the level of understanding and recognition of the Ahwazi community. This outcome will lead to a medium- term outcome, which is to increase and improve the public local support. This will have a positive impact in the integration of the Ahwazi community in the indigenous community.

In order to increase the level of understanding, I have carried out secondary research and interviews, to explain both the context and history of the Ahwazi Arabs but also the views of their situation in London. To be able to fill the gap in local services, I have interviewed the Ahwazi community to better understand their needs and to listen to their proposals.

(iii) Literature review

There is very little literature written on the Ahwazi Arabs communities.

The Ahwazi Arabs reside in southern Iran and as non-Persian nation; the community is censored and marginalised. Ahwazi Arabs have suffered an ethnic cleansing. The Iranian regime modus operandi against the Ahwazi civilians and its consequences in terms of unemployment, poverty and health conditions has forced thousands of Ahwazi to seek asylum in other countries.

An asylum seeker or asylum applicant is a person who has formally applied for asylum in order to be recognised as a refugee, but whose application has not yet been decided.

Under international law a refugee[1] is a person who:

From September 2005 people given refugee status are granted 5 years’ limited leave. This will be reviewed and Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) will be given to those who are still considered eligible to remain in the UK at the end of the 5-year period.

According to the Refugee Council, Iran is the second asylum applicant producing country since 2011, preceded by Pakistan. 2,667 Iranians sought asylum in the UK in 2012; 2,287 decisions were made and 1,115 asylum seekers were recognised as refugees. However, no official data has been found concerning the ethnic minority or region where the asylum seekers came from. Thus, it is impossible to know how many Ahwazi Arabs are asylum seekers or refugees in the UK. This lack of data is a consequence of the lack of information on the Ahwazi case: Ahwazi Arabs are considered as Iranians.

I have analysed different sources: studies, articles, reports and databases related to Ahwazi community and its main challenges including lack of identity recognition which lead to the current situation of poor integration and lack of public support.

The main sources used on the research have been the reports and documents released by international Human Rights organisations such as Amnesty International and United Nations as well as Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation, Nations without States. Other sources have been journal news (The Guardian) and the Refugee Council and Home Office for the data.

(iv) Methodology

The research methodology combined secondary materials with primary observation and interview data. A variety of research methods were employed during this research project, including:

Online desk research

I have undertaken extensive secondary research through targeted searches of specific sources including governmental websites, international organisations publications, and academic research. This involved literature, policy and document reviews into the violation of Human Rights in Iran and the environmental conditions, etc.

The desk review helped to broaden my understanding of the variables influencing the Ahwazi community to flee and ask for asylum.

Qualitative review of key issues for the Ahwazi community through the use of experts in the field. It also allowed me to open my view of other similar and comparable cases of marginalisation and prosecution in Middle East.

Participants: Ana Almuedo, a PhD Candidate in Middle East Politics in the University of Exeter has been invited to support and guide the research. At the same time, I have interviewed Wejdan Afrawee, an expert from the Southwark Refugee Forum.

Materials: unstructured, in-depth interviews were carried out, tailored to the individual experience and knowledge.

Semi-structured one-to-one interviews with the Ahwazi community.

Participants: the sampling was restricted to those Ahwazi Arabs residents in the Borough of Southwark and Lewisham with different profiles: housewife, politicians, senior community members, active and engaged community members (from the Mishdakh cultural centre) were interviewed.

Materials: a semi-structured interview was used. This qualitative method of inquiry combines a pre-determined set of open questions (questions that inspire discussion) with the opportunity for the interviewer to explore specific themes or responses further. It allows respondents to discuss and raise issues that the researchers have not considered. Interviewees were asked about the reasons they came to the UK, the difficulties they faced when arriving to the country, the type of support they have used or needed, their experience and opinions of issues such as the lack of services and support. These semi-structured interviews provided detailed information around complex and sensitive issues and provided the opportunity to get the views of people who feel uncomfortable in a group.

Procedure: seven Ahwazi Arabs were approached and to be interviewed. All participants were chosen from a non-random sample. Most of the businesses were drawn from samples provided by the experts and business support intermediaries interviewed during the research. Interviews were arranged by telephone, face-to-face and interviews were generally held at participants’ homes.

Focus group 

The focus group is a tool that enables discussion, thus an opportunity to compel and gather in depth information and provided an opportunity to ponder alternative viewpoints and understand what and how the situation of the Ahwazi could be changed.

The event, two hours in duration, took place at my home on 3rd January 2015 with eight participants.

(v) Ethical considerations

Core to any research is to bring into considerations all of the participants who formed much of the information gathered and provide total confidentiality. To ensure that my research abided to all the rules and regulations, Evelyn Oldfield Unit ethical panel reviewed and approved the following documents:

I have ensured that research participants are informed of the aims and objectives of the research prior to commencement of the fieldwork, in this case interviews and focus groups. I have done this by providing accessible information about the research. Participants were able and were always informed that they could withdraw at any time from the research without penalty.

I have also ensured that the interviewees do not feel compelled to participate and their involvement is voluntary and on the basis of informed consent by requiring written consent. Finally, I have paid special attention to protect the participants from undue intrusion, distress, indignity, physical discomfort, personal embarrassment or psychological harm.

All participants were assured of how the research findings would be disseminated and I offered them the option of providing a contact address, so that a copy may be mailed to them.

I did not offer any incentive to the participants as an inducement. They all participated voluntarily and willingly without any covet or overt duress.

Participant consent records are stored based on guidelines developed according to the Data Protection Act 1998: they have been kept in a safe place and will be destroyed after the research.

[1] The 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugees and its 1967 Protocol


Chapter 2: Research findings

Brief background and history of Ahwazi community


The Ahwazi Arabs is a community who resides mostly in southern Iran, bordering Iraq and the Arabic Gulf[1]. This area, known as Al-Ahwaz by the Arab community, has been renamed as Khuzestan by the Iranian authorities.

Iran is an ethnically diverse country. However, and similar to other non-Persian nations[2] in the country, the Ahwazi Arab people are censored: their voices are suffocated severely and their Arabic identity denied under Iranian regime.

Ahwaz has a population of about 5-6 million. The region is one of the top five producers of oil and gas in the world and its soil has a great potential for agriculture. Despite the existence of these rich natural resources, Ahwazi people suffer from high rate of unemployment and poverty.

For more than eight decades regional and central governments in Iran have marginalized Ahwazi Arab people avoiding them to reach reasonable levels of health, education and employment. The Ahwazi people have no right to participate in politics and their language has been banned.

Since 1925, different regimes have carried a policy of Persianisation[3] and ethnic cleansing in Ahwazi regions but the rate of displacement, deportations and migratory waves has increased since the Islamic Republic took power in 1979. Tens of thousands of Ahwazis were forced to leave their lands and farms to deserted parts of Iran.

“The state of Iran is pursuing policies of mass expulsion, intimidation, and annihilation against the Ahwazi Arab population as a form of ethnic cleansing. The physical and cultural attacks are a forced removal of the minoritarian population with aims of eradication of the Ahwazi, and an attempt of imposing a homogeneous Persian population”[4].

In the recent years the Iranian authorities have used anti-social environmental policies in order to accelerate the forced migration of indigenous Ahwazi people. A policy of water restriction is being practiced: water from the main river courses in Ahwaz are diverted from their natural flows. For example, the regime has diverted the Karoon River from its main course to the arid central Persian regions. This cuts off drinking water and causes illness in the Ahwazi community. Periodically floods are created via the construction of dams, the water scarcity cripples the local agricultural economy and causes desertification. Furthermore, all the sewerage goes untreated into the River, which supplies all Ahwaz city water. As a result, water becomes contaminated and undrinkable[5].

Another environmental problem is the air pollution. According to the WHO report published in October 2013[6], Ahwaz has the most air polluted in the world,[7] surpassing Beijing and Delhi. The report highlights also that the region has the highest measured level of airborne particles small enough to cause serious health problems in humans (i.e. high asthma levels). Life expectancy in Ahwaz is the lowest in Iran due not only to the air pollution but to the storage and use of toxic materials remaining from the Iran-Iraq war and the lack of equipment and resources in the health care system.


 Non-Persian ethnic minorities make up roughly 40% to 50% of Iran’s population. The main minority groups are Turkish-speaking Azerbaijanis, Kurds, Arabs, Baluch, and smaller populations of Armenians, Turkmen, and Lors.

[3] Persianisation is a sociological process of cultural change in which something non-Persian becomes Persianate. It is a specific form of cultural assimilation that often includes linguistic assimilation. The term applies not only to cultures, but also to individuals, as they acclimate to the Persian culture.

[4] Ana Almuedo Castillo, PhD Candidate n Middle East Politics, University of Exeter

[5] In September 2014, thousands of the Ahwazi Arab gathered by the Karoon River and formed a human chain in protest against the regime’s policy of diverting the water to the central regions of Iran. The protesters called on the UN Commissioner and Chairman of the Human Development Programme in Tehran to take action and intervene. Pictures of the demonstration can be found here.

[6] Air quality in cities database. Available from: <>.

[7] One of the measures of dangerous air pollution is the number of parts per million of particles smaller than 10 micrometers (PM10) wafting through the air. Ahwaz average PM10 level hovers around 372. Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, ranks second, enduring a 279 PM10, far higher than the global average of 71.

The United Nations and Amnesty International have expressed their concern about violations of the human rights on the Ahwazi Arabs. They suffer from discrimination on the grounds of political opinion, previous political affiliation and support or religious affiliation. Activists campaigning for the rights of minorities faced official threats, arrest and imprisonment.

Every year hundreds of Ahwazi activists are executed by the Iranian regime without a fair trial and receiving torture and other ill-treatment. As reported by Ahmad Shahid[1], five Ahwazi cultural rights activists were executed after having been convicted of “gathering and colluding against state security and spreading propaganda against the system”[2]. Another case is the one of Jabbar Yabbari and at least 24 other Ahwazi Arabs, who were arrested in 2013 during demonstrations commemorating a 2005 demonstration against discrimination[3].

The Iranian regime crackdown against the Ahwazi civilians has forced thousands of Ahwazi to seek asylum mainly in Australia, the UK, Turkey, Germany and the Scandinavian countries. They fled Ahwaz due to the systematic oppression, poverty, high unemployment rate and the health conditions.

Consultation with the Ahwazi Arab community

The interviews took place in participants’ homes. The focus group was organised in my home in Bermondsey, South London.

Participants profile: 


[1] UNGA Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran (2013) UN Doc A/68/503. Available here. [4 October 2013].

[2] It has been widely reported that those individuals were tortured during interrogation and forced to issue confessions that were later used against them in connection with protests that took place in 2011 and 2012 across Khuzestan Province. The individuals reportedly engaged in a dry hunger strike in protest of their torture and mistreatment while in prison.

[3] Amnesty International, Annual Report 2013 The state of the world’s human rights Iran. Available here

[4] Many Ahwazis either in homeland or in the diaspora are more confident in Persian than in Arabic due to the anti-Arabic policies of the Iranian regime.



The findings from the research including the interviews, focus group and desk research indicate that there is very little information in regards of the Ahwazi community among public and local authorities.

All participants agreed on the fact that there is a lack of awareness and information about the Ahwazi community in London. As an example, no official figure about the population of Ahwazi community is registered in London or the UK. Participants were concerned about the UK government mistakenly considering the Ahwazi people as Iranians. Interviewed members of the community estimated the Ahwazi population in London to be around 2,000 or 3,000 citizens.

The main barriers and challenges faced by the Ahwazi are:


More than half of the participants stated that the Iranian regime’s severe censorship is the main cause of poor level of information in regards with Ahwazi community. Other identified causes by the participants were:

One of the respondents stated that the main reason behind this poor level of recognition is the international big powers who don’t want one of the biggest oil and gas resources in the world to be politically unstable.

“Big powers prefer these rich resources to be controlled by powerful and stable States such as Iran no matter if Human Rights are violated”.

One of the participants went further and stated:

“There is deliberate policy inside Whitehouse to support Iranian regime to suppress and marginalize Arab people”.


Participants highlighted that the lack of information about the Ahwazi community among the general public and local government affects the day to day life of the community.

Intervieews complained about the lack of support they received when they arrived to the UK seeking asylum. The majority of the interviewed stated that currently there are no specific services and support for the Ahwazi community in London.

The majority of the interviewed have tried to raise awareness and improve the situation of the Ahwazi community. They did it in a variety of ways, such as establishing TV stations or campaigning (i.e. activist talking to politicians at the House of Commons, using other cultural celebrations to raise awareness, etc.).However, due to financial constraints and the lack of support from the local authorities they were not able to continue with the TV project, for example.


“I was an active member of an Ahwazi political party … We have tried our best to increase the awareness through running a range of social and cultural activities but unfortunately, as the result of ignorance of the local authorities and lack of fund and support, most of our activities have stopped”.

A large number of the Ahwazi community suffer from deep and alarming level of depression and frustration as the result of isolation and poor level of integration. One of the participants, who was a political prisoner in Iran, is currently suffering from Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and stated that “if I am guaranteed that I won’t be executed if I come back home, and I just receive prison sentence, I would never stay here (in the UK). I feel I’m completely useless person here”.

One of the participants commented that: “depression can be very dangerous and might lead to extremism”.


The majority of the participants believed that the best service they could have is a community centre in order to run a wide variety of cultural activities, workshops and other social events. The centre will serve as a meeting point between the Ahwazi community members and other communities, including the local authority. Thus, facilitating and accelerating the integration process. Finally, the centre will be a starting point of the ethnic minority group and will contribute to increase their visibility and to overcome the lack of knowledge of the community in London.

Chapter 3: Discussion


Most refugees and asylum seekers are not in a position to choose their country of destination. If they are, they come to the UK either because they have a family member or contact here or their good perception about the migration process and the respect of Human Rights in this country (compared to others).

Countries that produce refugee and asylum seekers have well documented poor Human Rights records, or are places where war or conflict is ongoing. It is therefore not possible to assume that asylum seekers try to enter this country for economic reasons.

Refugees and asylum seekers face a variety of challenges, from the language barrier to the lack of support. The UK does not provide a standard and mandatory induction programme for refugees and asylum seekers. Thus, they need to gain knowledge about living and working in the UK from existing networks. The services that do exist, and those that they can access, in the areas where they live or work, are variable, and in the case of London, these services are almost non-existent[1].

For example, many Ahwazi refugees face serious challenges concerning personal interpreters during the screening and case interviews when they were provided Persian interpreters. Unfortunately some interpreters with Persian background are biased when these refugees talk about discrimination and racism carried out by Persian authorities against Ahwazi Arab in Iran.

In general, main challenges are related to housing, health care access, learning and social cohesion, ESOL and access to employment. This research has found specific barriers faced by the Ahwazi community coinciding with those faced by other refugees: the language barrier, the lack of support and the problems faced during the immigration process. Many refugees have to wait a long time to get a decision on their claims, the period could be from two months to ten years, causing, among other things, a stress disorder, depression and anxiety. In the meanwhile, they could be displaced to any city in the country, causing uncertainty and stress. Asylum seekers who would not be granted the refugee status will lose all type of support including the right to work, access to NHS, housing and education.


Several reasons emerged from this poor level of identity recognition. Factors such as the Iranian severe censorship and the brutal discrimination against the Ahwazi case during the past eight decades is considered the most crucial reason behind the current lack of identity recognition of the community.

Hostility attitudes against Ahwazi Arabs and other ethnic minorities with Semitic heritage have been always encouraged by the Persian authorities. For example the forced displacements or the prohibition of the Arabic language.

The Iranian censorship and discrimination against the Ahwazi community coexists with the lack of interest and support from Western countries. The existence of huge oil and gas resources (first in natural gas reserves and third in oil reserves internationally, 2012)[2] make the Ahwaz region[3]crucially vital for Iran’s economy, which relies on the oil and gas incomes in more than a 90 per cent. Indeed, over 90 per cent of Iran’s oil capacity is located in Khuzestan Province (Ahwaz region). [4].  Thus, international big powers have less interest in supporting Ahwazis as they do not want these resources to be at risk because of political instability.

Other factors affecting the poor level of awareness on the Ahwazi case are the fact that is a relatively new refugee community in London – as most Ahwazis fled the country and sought asylum in the UK in the early years of the 21st century- and the relatively low number of refugees living in the city – despite there is no official figure, it is estimated that there are around 2000-3000 community members.

Furthermore, a factor found within the own community is that, as a result of being humbled on a daily basis and living under racist policies for long time, a large number of Ahwazi Arabs suffer from shyness, lack of engagement and lack of solidarity within the community.

The lack of local support, although considered a consequence of the lack of awareness and recognition, is reinforcing the current situation of poor level of awareness of the Ahwazi case in London. For example, some activists tried to establish TV stations and set up other awareness raising campaigns but, due to the high cost and the lack of public support from the local government, they were not able to continue.


As mentioned before, refugees faced common barriers in terms of lack of support and the difficulties derived from the immigration process. However, it could be inferred that Ahwazi Arabs are a vulnerable group as many asylum seekers may not get the refugee status as the result of a lack of identity recognition. When this is the case, Ahwazi asylum seekers spend several years in the UK without any type of support or rights.

An additional significant effect is the low level of integration within the local community, causing social and official isolation.

The lack of support and poor integration have an effect on both the unemployment rates within the community and, consequently the lack of self-confidence and poor living standards. Many of the Ahwazis only work when there is a job opportunity within the community. Thus, relying on the already established networks within the community; they avoid working outside the community because they feel unwelcomed.

Findings demonstrated that there is a worrying level of depression and deep frustration among large number of the community members. This depression is far deep to some extent that some members of the community have no hope in life.


The research findings revealed the importance of having a community centre and receiving support from the local government. The centre is seen as the best opportunity to both, fill the gap in the support provided to the community, and improve the integration process.

At the same time, Ahwazi activists in London would need to double their attempts and creativity to find cost-effective ways of raising awareness.

Chapter 4

(i) Conclusions

The Ahwazi community perceives a lack of information and understanding by the local community on their case. This leads to poor information in regards of identity recognition of the Ahwazi Arabs in London, which causes several challenges to the community.

The interviewed, together with the desk research showed that the most significant factor is the severe censorship carried out by Iranian regimes during the past eight decades against ethnic minorities. Other reasons such as international big powers interests and cultural barriers influence this lack of awareness.

The community suffers from this lack of recognition in different areas; the immigration process and challenges, a poor level of integration, a warning level of depression and unemployment.

There is a need for further community engagement and intervention.

(ii) Recommendations

The following recommendations can be made:

The questions listed below could constitute the framework for future researches:


[1] NIACE (2009). Refugees and asylum seekers in the UK: The challenges of accessing education and employment. [Online] Available here

[2] CIA World fact book, 2012 Iran. Available here

[3] According to IEA, the top ten oil producer countries produced over 64 % of the world oil production in 2012. These were: Russia 544 Mt (13 %), Saudi Arabia 520 Mt (13 %), United States 387 Mt (9 %), China 206 Mt (5%), Iran 186 Mt (4 %), Canada 182 Mt (4 %), United Arab Emirates 163 Mt (4 %), Venezuela 162 Mt (4 %), Kuwait 152 Mt (4 %) and Iraq 148 Mt (4 %).

[4] Available here


(iii) The strengths and limitations of research


Methodological Limitations

Limitations of the Researcher


Organising interviews and focus group with community members and experts provided a relatively additional insight in to the scale of the problem and the barriers to tackle the issue. The interviews followed a semi-structured framework, providing detailed information around this complex and sensitive topic.


The interviews and the focus group raised a lot of interest within the Ahwazi community and the atmosphere was friendly. This may lead to further engagement by the community in the raising awareness process.


The time management has worked well: fortnightly meetings with my mentor and constant exchange of emails allowed to follow the action plan (jointly designed at the beginning of the support) and submit the report in due time.



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report by :

Abdol Hossein Saki

Ahwazi Centre for Human Right


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