Refugees fleeing from Mosul head to the Kurdistan Region. AP file photo
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region--Over one million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are expected to flee areas under Islamic State control in Nineveh Province due to the anticipated battle for Mosul and recent offensives in regions surrounding the city. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) expects that half of them will come to the Kurdistan Region.
"As the Military operations continue, especially the Mosul liberation Operation, we expect huge waves of displacement and over one million people will be fleeing ISIS controlled area in Ninewa province. It is highly predictable from the past experience, over half million people will come to Kurdistan Region," Hoshang Mohamed, Director General of the Joint Crisis Coordination Centre (JCC) for the KRG’s Ministry of Interior, told Rudaw English by email.
Thousands of IDPs have already reached the Peshmerga and the Kurdistan Region since Kurdish and Iraqi forces launched a military offensive against ISIS in villages in the Mosul area in March, Mohamed confirmed.
"Since March 24th, when Iraqi security forces started military operations to retake the south-east villages and eventually Gayara, over 14 thousand people have fled to the Peshmerga front-lines and then they arrived in Makhmur and Debaga," he explained.
International organizations like the United Nations have reported that the influx of IDPs from Iraq and refugees from Syria have put pressure on the limited financial resources of the KRG that is unable to provide them with adequate shelter.
The United Nations’ refugee agency (UNHCR) said in a report that they have begun work with the Kurdish government and several humanitarian and development partners to overcome challenges in urban areas affected by large scale displacement and refugees.
“Today, the KR-I [Kurdistan Region of Iraq] hosts over 1 million displaced persons, putting pressure on the region’s limited resources, particularly with respect to the provision of public services, at a time when the regional government is facing severe economic challenges,” the UN said in a statement last week.
According to a report by the UN, 25 percent of Erbil’s 2 million population is either a refugee or a displaced Iraqi and an overwhelming 95 percent of the province’s displaced families live outside of camps in urban areas.
Mohammed expected that in July, the number of new IDPs fleeing to the KRG would skyrocket to 30,000 as soon as Iraqi forces reach Gayara town.
"IDPs are coming on [a] daily basis and we expect the current number [to] reach over 30 thousand in the next months when the Iraqi forces reach Gayara. When the Mosul offensive is launched, we expect a half of million people to flee to the Kurdistan Region," he explained.
The Iraqi army kicked off another offensive to cleanse the town of Gayara of ISIS militants, bringing them one step closer to Mosul, Mohammed Askari, spokesperson of the Iraqi defense minister, said on Saturday.
Askari described the offensive as magnificent, leading the Iraqi army to the ISIS-held stronghold of Mosul.
Asked where the IDPs being hosted in the Kurdistan Region notably come from, Mohamed explained that "At the [beginning] of the ISIS invasion in 2014, they were coming from everywhere including Nineveh, Salahaddin and Anbar provinces. But now, they are mostly from villages in the south-east Mosul, Hawija and Falluja."
A few days ago 700 more IDPs arrived from Haji Ali village alone. The majority were children and women and shelter remains a top priority.
Those fleeing ISIS take risks and conquer their fears, hitting the roads to escape the group's brutalities but landmines and car bombs on their way hinder many who want to reach the sanctuary of the Kurdistan Region and the Peshmerga.
On June 16, "ISIS detonated a car bomb on IDPs fleeing from ISIS area in Kharabardan village, Makhmur, 12 injured & transferred to Dibaga & Erbil hospital," according to a JCC report.
Describing the condition of the IDPs, Mohamed said they are vulnerable and "in a very difficult condition. They have left all of their possessions behind and they entirely depend on the humanitarian assistance. They need everything including water, food, non-food items, shelter and medical care services."
He detailed that "The annual cost of the IDPs and refugees on the KRG's public infrastructure is estimated at 1.4 billion US dollars.” And the KRG is receiving little assistance in covering these costs. “So far, we have not received any direct financial assistance to the KRG's budget needs for the humanitarian assistance. All the services and operation costs are covered by KRG.”
Mohamed stated that the United Nations and international NGOs are important partners with the KRG in not only helping to support the IDPs and refugees, “but also they provided technical and financial assistance to the government departments to strengthen crisis response capacity across the Kurdistan Region.”
But, he noted, they too are facing a funding crisis.
The UN has various methods at its disposal to raise funds. Additionally, "the International NGOs have their own tools of fund raising. All of these tools are complementing each other for fund raising. But the funds are decreasing chronically, for instance, the HRP [the UN’s Humanitarian Response Plan] was launched in January 2016, until now, only 31% has been funded from the total appealed fund of 861 million US dollars.”