Many Syrian refugees are housed at the Domiz camp in Kurdistan. AP file photo.
UNITED NATIONS – Kurdish leaders have warned the United Nations they are preparing for an extra 500,000 Iraqis fleeing into their self-governing region when the expected assault on Islamic State-held Mosul begins in earnest, a UN official told Rudaw.
Zainab Bangura, the UN’s special envoy on sexual crimes during wartime, spoke with Rudaw about her visit to Erbil, Dohuk and Lalish as part of her April 16-29 five-nation Middle East tour to probe atrocities by Islamic State, known as ISIS or ISIL.
Kurdish officials are “putting in place, with the UN agencies, to prepare space once the attack on Mosul succeeds because it’s a big city of over 1 million people – so they anticipate they will have an extra 500,000 displaced,” Bangura told Rudaw on Thursday.
“None of the displaced will want to go to Baghdad, because Baghdad is not safe, and they would rather go to Erbil or Dohuk.”
During her visit, Bangura met with the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and other officials in Erbil and Dohuk, some of whom complained about struggling to host such a large number of refugees from Syria and Iraq.
“All the IDPs and the Syrian refugees are in Kurdistan Region. It’s a small region and, according to them, they’ve not had resources from the government in Baghdad for up to a year,” she said, using an UN acronym to describe internally displaced persons.
“They have to host all these IDPs who are fighting from all the war within and then they have Syrian refugees also.”
The Kurdish region already hosts some 250,000 refugees from Syria and 2 million Iraqi IDPs who were forced to flee their homes when the sectarian Sunni Muslim militia, ISIS, seized swathes of Iraq and Syria and began persecuting Shiites and religious minority groups.
Iraqi and Kurdish forces are preparing to re-capture Mosul, a mostly-Sunni ISIS-held city, in an operation that is expected to include military intelligence and airstrikes from a US-led coalition and ground forces made up of Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi forces.
On Wednesday, the Norwegian Refugee Council, an aid group, said that a record 38 million people have been internally displaced in their countries worldwide, with 2.2 million Iraqis alone forced to flee from their homes in 2014 after the Islamic State group overrun their areas.
At least 1.1 million Syrians also fled their homes last year. That country has the highest number of internally displaced, with 7.6 million dislodged because of the conflict, now in its fifth year. That's at least 35 per cent of the population.