Refugees in Kirkuk. AFP photo.
KIRKUK - Nearly a half-million refugees have fled to Kirkuk due to violence in the rest of Iraq and live in deteriorating conditions, officials say.
“It is the responsibility of the Iraqi government to provide for these people,” said Kamil Salayi, the mayor of Kirkuk city.
“Their situation is dire and Baghdad should take their needs seriously,” he told Rudaw. “But sadly, the central government is negligent about this.”
Most of the refugees fled to Kirkuk last summer, when the Islamic State (ISIS) occupied much of Iraq’s Sunni areas, swelling a population of thousands more that had arrived fled during the country’s sectarian war in 2005-2008.
The governors of Mosul, Salahaddin and Diyala promised late last year to send a portion of their budget to Kirkuk for local authorities to assist refugees who fled from those provinces.
But Azad Jabbari, head of the migration and displaced peoples department in Kirkuk, said that “those words are nothing but empty promises.”
“We have asked those governors before to at least send these refugees’ food rations and medicines, but they haven’t done anything,” Jabbari charged.
Kirkuk has been under Kurdish control since last summer, and despite occasional bombings it is considered one of Iraq’s safer provinces, attracting many Shiite and Sunni refugees from neighboring provinces.
But despite the large numbers of displaced people, there is only one official refugee camp in Kirkuk.
The authorities say they do not have the means to protect the refugees, especially from the harsh winter temperatures. They have warned that the central government in Baghdad should step in before the situation worsens.
The governors of Salahaddin and Mosul have, meanwhile, asked the Kirkuk governor to lift restrictions at the Maktab Khalid checkpoint to allow people who want to flee from ISIS-ruled areas.
But the Kurdish authorities have expressed concerns that the influx of Arab refugees may change the ethnic balance of the contested city.