Empty Erbil airport after the flight ban came into effect Friday at 6pm. Photo: A.C. Robinson/Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The travel ban imposed on Kurdistan’s international airports in Erbil and Sulaimani is already taking a financial toll on revenue coming into the Kurdistan Region as well as causing problems for passengers, just hours after the ban came into effect, Friday at 6 pm.
“Today all scheduled flights went normally until 6 pm. We were hoping the situation would change but we didn’t get any information from Baghdad so all international flights have been suspended,” said Talar Faeq, general director of Erbil’s airport.
Faeq said the airport reserves the right to review their capability for the operation of the airport.
“As you can see, everything has stopped except the domestic flights,” she said. “Now we must accept this fact.”
Faeq said the airport will stop receiving revenue from airlines, which will have an immediate impact on the Kurdistan Region.
“At the same time, we’re not receiving any money from Iraqi Airways for landing or passenger tax, which has now accumulated and reached $33 million,” she explained.
Erbil’s airport serves between 50 and 60 flights and between 5,000 to 5,500 passengers per day, bringing in an estimated daily revenue of $350,000, Faeq said.
She stressed that the travel ban would not affect the jobs of any employees, however.
“This is not a reasonable decision for anyone. Not just for the airport, not for the normal citizens, not for our employees, and it’s not serving humanitarian issues.” she said. “I think it needs to be reviewed again.”
Earlier in the day, just an hour before the ban was to go into effect, Nishtiman Youth Network (NYN) organized a peaceful protest at both Erbil and Sulaimani airports.
Hundreds of protesters attended the event. holding messages such as ‘beauty’, ‘dreams’, ‘happy’, ‘energy’, ‘patience’, ‘positive’, and ‘independence’ – attaching the motivational words in both Kurdish and English to hundreds of balloons.
The organizers from NYN read a statement addressed to the international community in Kurdish, Arabic, Turkish, and English just before the balloons were released into the air.
“The Iraqi government set a number of penalties including placing a curfew on all the flights to and from both Erbil and Sulaimani International Airports, which is truly against basic human rights,” the statement read.
“That’s why banning flights will have a direct effect on the society and is considered as a group punishment against people of the Kurdistan Region which includes all different races, religions and ethnic groups living in Kurdistan.”
Flights have been cancelled and now travelers are either stuck abroad, unable to return home or have traveled to the Kurdistan Region on vacation and are unable to leave.
One family drove 100 kilometers to Erbil’s airport from Kirkuk. An Arab woman by the name of Selma said she and her three young children had been in Kirkuk visiting family, but were supposed to return to Ankara in Turkey where they live.
They arrived at the airport Friday afternoon for a flight with Pegasus that was supposed to depart at 5:50 pm. Selma was also traveling with and assisting her disabled sister who was in a wheelchair. She had one leg amputated from complications related to diabetes.
After several hours of waiting in the airport, Selma was told her flight was cancelled. There was nothing she could do but return to Kirkuk.
When asked if she had a message for Iraqi’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, she replied, “Solve your problems between yourselves and don’t bring the citizens into it. What’s my fault?”
Selma’s 5:50 pm flight to Ankara was cancelled. Photo: A.C. Robinson/Rudaw