The turmoil caused by the Syrian civil war and the rise of the Islamic State (IS) has created unimaginable human tragedy, not least millions of refugees and Internally Displaced Person’s (IDPs). While the internationals spotlight about the refugee crisis is mainly on Turkey, the migrant burden has created unsustainable pressure on the Kurdistan Region.
The estimated 1.8 million IDPs and refugees in Kurdistan is a considerable number, but with the ongoing battle to recapture Mosul and the violence in Syria and Iraq far from over, this number is continuously increasing.
Since the battle for Mosul began, an additional 95,000 IDPs have taken refuge in the Kurdistan Region. The Kurdistan Region’s Minister of Interior, Karim Sinjari, issued a warning of “an impending humanitarian catastrophe” as Kurdistan could not cope with a further flood of refugees, especially, as the battle front shifts to the west of Mosul.
Sinjari called for “additional resources to be provided immediately to deal with the increased burden.”
The strain this crisis has placed on the region is visible. Such refugees need adequate food, health care, clothes, and shelter. This is not for a week or two but on a long term basis due to the protracted and complicated nature of events that lead to their plight.
Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is also facing tremendous pressures caused by a weakened economy and the costly fight against IS. Adding the millions of IDPs into the mix is simply unsustainable, with the region’s infrastructure unable to cope with the increased demand.
Germany’s Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, Gerd Muller, in a recent press conference with Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, praised the Kurdistan Region for embracing 1.8 million IDPs, in spite of the harsh economic climate.
Muller stated, “But we have come to support you, as well as the EU, should support the Kurdistan Region,” as he vowed that the “Kurdistan Region is not alone.”
Meanwhile, Barzani stressed, “On a humanitarian level it is indeed very important that Germany helps the migrants, but it is as important to assist the Kurdistan Region to deal with the refugee crisis here and prevent people from becoming migrants in other countries.”
The European Commission has allocated €241 million since 2015 in humanitarian aid to Iraq, with expectation for Iraq to receive another €50 million from the EU in early 2017, of which €28 million has been allocated for the KRG.
But even this much welcome aid is unlikely to be sufficient.
While the focus is primarily on international aid, Baghdad could certainly do more. After all, a large proportion of the migrants is made up of Arabs escaping the violence south of Kurdistan’s border.
Moreover, the weak security provided by Iraqi armed forces and the continued sectarian policies emanating out of Baghdad contributed to this crisis.
Ironically, Baghdad failed to pay salaries of Peshmerga forces, at the heart of the battle against IS, and pay Kurdistan’s fair share of the budget, let alone help with the region’s migrant crisis.
As welcome as international aid will be to alleviate the crisis in Kurdistan, these remain tactical measures. The real focus should be on ensuring the rebuilding of shattered areas so that IDPs can safely return.
Unfortunately, if aid was an issue to sustain internally displaced persons, any rebuilding efforts will run into tens of billions of dollars.
Also, political measures must be taken to ensure the same policies or mindsets do not allow further unrest.
In a recent statement, the KRG stated it has no “intention whatsoever to close the camps where the displaced populations are hosted,” in spite of the great difficulties it has to face. Further, it would only support cases of “safe, voluntary, and dignified” return of any displaced persons.
First Published: Kurdistan 24