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Flight ban disrupts medical trips, aid deliveries, education

By Hannah Lynch 29/9/2017
Demonstrators protesting the flight ban released balloon outside Erbil International Airport Friday evening. Photo: Rudaw video
Demonstrators protesting the flight ban released balloon outside Erbil International Airport Friday evening. Photo: Rudaw video
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – A ban on all international flights in and out of the Kurdistan Region came into effect at 6pm on Friday. In a statement issued mere hours before the ban stopping all international flights in and out of Kurdistan came into effect, the Iraqi government denied the move, imposed in response to the independence referendum, was meant to punish the Kurdish people. 

The measure has had immediate effect on individual lives – cancelling aid deliveries, jeopardizing studies, and leaving a father wondering how to care for his ill child. 

Eight-year old Talia has a history of breathing problems and has been diagnosed with asthma. Her father, Twana Abubakir, took her to Vienna to see a specialist. It took six months to get a visa. 

They were supposed to go back to the Austrian doctor for a follow-up and had a flight out of Erbil booked for October 11. 

The medication they had received from the doctor was enough to last just until their October appointment. Now Abubakir doesn’t know what he’ll do and it’s his eight-year old ill daughter who is encouraging him. “She just told me ‘don’t be sad,’” said Abubakir. 

Eight-year old Talia needs to travel to Vienna for a medical appointment. Photo courtesy of Twana Abubakir

A third-year student at Ishik University is worried about the future of her studies. She is currently in Europe but needs to be back in Kurdistan when classes begin on October 10. 

“I’m hoping everything will be alright by then,” she said, choosing to remain anonymous. “I will probably miss classes and possibly some important information, and of course registration for my classes.”

David Lohmueller was due to fly to Erbil from his home in Germany on Friday, delivering humanitarian aid to Yezidis in Shingal. His flight was cancelled at the last minute. 

Lohmueller became involved in humanitarian work with the Yezidi community when he decided to volunteer in the Idomeni refugee camp in Greece in March 2016.

While there, he noticed there was little light in the refugee camps at night. He went to a shop and bought about 20 solar lamps to hand out among the refugees. His photographs of the camps sparked a crowdfunding campaign that raised €12,000, meaning he was able to purchase and distribute many more solar lights. 

Through his work, he connected with other volunteers and Yezidi refugees. A group decided to extend their volunteer work to help Yezidis in Shingal. 

Partnering with a local NGO, they were asked to provide assistance to construct greenhouses and provide livestock to help Yezidi farmers rebuild their livelihoods. Lohmueller was also asked to provide solar lights.

He was due to fly into Erbil, his first trip to Kurdistan and Iraq, on Friday, bringing with him a few hundred solar lights and his camera on a fact finding visit to connect with locals and help his fellow volunteers build greenhouses. He said he was at the bus station on the way to the airport on Friday when he received a text message from the airline that his flight from Istanbul to Erbil was cancelled because of the flight ban. 

Though the effort Lohmueller and his fellow volunteers are involved in is small, “what I learnt in Greece, what may seem a small thing is such a big thing for the people who are affected.”

For now, he is waiting and watching, hoping he can make it to the country soon

Shanya Muhamed missed a training program in Lebanon. Photo courtesy of Shanya Muhamed

Shanya Muhamed was supposed to attend a training camp on extremism, tolerance, peace, and conflict put on by the Forum for Development Culture and Dialogue in Lebanon. 

Muhamed works for an Italian NGO, Un Ponte Per…, as a peace-building facilitator. She leads dialogue both inside and outside camps to foster social cohesion and peace. Displaced Iraqis, refugees, and host communities all benefit. 

As communities struggle to rebuild trust after the horrors of years of life under ISIS, nurturing relationships through dialogue is an important part of bringing long-lasting peace and stability. Muhamed was hoping to enhance her skills in facilitating dialogue between these communities. She said it is important because of the “different kinds and level of tension that we work on inside the IDP and refugee camps.”

She should have been in Lebanon now, learning these skills that would help her humanitarian work. But she had to cancel the trip because her return flight was scheduled for October 5 and she worried she would not be able to come home after the program. Muhamed said she has too many responsibilities in the IDP and refugee camps that she could not be away for an open-ended period of time, waiting for the flight ban to be lifted. 


Khatun | 30/9/2017
This ban seriously disrupted the life and work of many people (including many non-Kurds). But what does Abadi care? Funny way to go around getting the Kurds back into Iraq. I am not a Kurd, but if I were, I would spit in his face. (Well, given that he has just f..ed up my academic year, I would spit even as a non-Kurd.)
Shiyar | 30/9/2017
I can't believe that Iraq which only exists on paper can ban flights in and out of Kurdistan. I just cannot believe it!
Haluk | 30/9/2017
Well, Kurdistan, currently, is not a member of IATA, but Iraq, on paper, is. KRG needs to apply for some provisionary status. I am not sure it will be granted but KRG should ask Israel and the USA to intervene in their favor.
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