Families from Kirkuk fleeing to Sulaimani this week. Photo: Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is warning of the possibility of a humanitarian crisis if confrontations and insecurity escalate in the disputed areas, causing more people to flee their homes.
“So far, one hundred sixty-eight thousand and three hundred seventy-two (168,372) civilians have been displaced from Kirkuk, Khanaqin, Khurmatu, Zummar, and Rabea to Kurdistan Region,” read a statement from the Ministry of Interior on Saturday.
Iraqi forces, including the Hashd al-Shaabi, have taken over control of disputed areas in Kirkuk, Diyala, and Nineveh provinces this week, including Kirkuk, Khanaqin, Tuz Khurmatu, Makhmour, Zummar, and Shingal.
The KRG reported that 84,000 civilians fled to Erbil, 78,372 fled to Sulaimani and 6,000 arrived in Duhok and Zakho from Rabea and Zummar.
While a majority of the displaced was staying with family, friends, and host communities, a large number was sheltering in unfinished buildings, public places, and camps.
The government and international partners are distributing urgent items and working to provide secure shelter, but emergency humanitarian assistance is needed, including food, water, clothes, blankets, and medical aid, the KRG stated.
Erbil’s governor Nawzad Hadi said displaced people from Kirkuk, Tuz Khurmatu, and Pirde have largely been helped by locals as well as the Barzani Charity Foundation, the Rwanga Organization, and the Red Cross (ICRC). He said they have called on UN agencies to also become involved.
“Regarding the IDPs, we do not have camps to shelter them in, but it is the people of Erbil embracing them and voluntarily giving them their houses and motels and other facilities,” he said.
“What is our duty now is to find spaces for these displaced people,” Hadi said. They do not have plans to set up camps because they hope problems will be resolved soon, particularly in light of the US Department of State’s recent call for cessation of hostilities.
They are challenged to care for the many who have been displaced, the governor said, because of ongoing financial woes.
The government is worried that many more may flee because of “indiscriminate violence, torture, looting, burning civilians’ homes and properties, especially the Kurdish people in these areas,” by the Iraqi and Hashd al-Shaabi forces, the KRG stated.
The United Nations
and Human Rights Watch
have reported civilian deaths, looting, arson, and forced displacements, mainly of Kurds, in Kirkuk and Tuz Khurmatu.
The UN had reported that many displaced on Monday, in the first day of confrontations, were already returning home by Tuesday. Subsequent waves of civilians have fled, however, as fears of insecurity remain.
“The situation remains volatile, and many people are returning to their homes only to flee for a second or third time when hostilities erupt again,” said Lise Grande, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, on Saturday.
The takeover of the disputed areas is part of a series of measures taken by the central Iraqi government as it seeks to exert federal authority in the Kurdistan Region and Kurdistani areas after the September 25 referendum that saw 92.7 percent of people voting for independence, despite Iraqi opposition.
Updated at 11:00 pm