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Hours in, travel ban already taking financial toll, travelers stranded

By A.C. Robinson 29/9/2017
Empty Erbil airport after the flight ban came into effect Friday at 6pm. Photo: A.C. Robinson/Rudaw
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 


Long Live Kurdistan | 30/9/2017
In the light of recent hostile Iraqi reaction to the will of the Kurdish people to have the right to determine their own destiny, the KRG should not even wait to have any negotiations with the Iraq government and, instead, it should declare independence immediately, regardless of the consequences. We the Kurds are 100% behind our President (Mr. Barzani) and our political leadership; and we do not give a damn about what anybody says about our referendum. We are ready to endure whatever hardship that might be ahead of us. We want an independent country of our own, and nobody can stop us from getting there. Long Live Kurdistan and the Kurds!
Adam | 30/9/2017
What is the KRG going to do about this unacceptable situation? This is a crime! Someone must pay for it dearly!!! How can the entire national airports be shut down? Absolutely horrendous and it can only happen in a Middle Eastern country.
xGen | 30/9/2017
Let's look at the bigger picture. Kurdish leaders in KRG should have worked on building an infrastructure and industry in their region instead of relying on neighbors and west for BASIC materials. It is necessary that KRG becomes self-sufficient to reduce the imports significantly. Look at Rojava, they are under embargo by everyone, including their brothers in KRG but they are thriving and despite the war they have managed to produce 40 percent of WHOLE Syria's GDP. It is time to believe in people of KRG and follow the same path. This way, neighbors don't control your fate but YOU do.
Moz | 30/9/2017
Its time for you kurds to put your money where your mouths are. You now have independence and your neighbours absolutely the right to trade and fly to any country they wish or dont wish. Iran has been under global sanctions for 30 years and responded by launching satellites, manufacturing cars, having brilliant medical facilities of wich i know Kurds use, so time to quit crying kurds and build your nation.... All the european Kurds time for you to go back and see how you can build a nation on your own

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