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Activists urge UN to support Iraqi refugees in Kurdistan - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Displaced Iraqis forced to flee their homes ahead of gains made by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants in and around Mosul, shelter at the Bahrka Refugee camp, Erbil, northern Iraq, on September 19, 2014. (EPA/Mohamed Messara)

Displaced Iraqis forced to flee their homes ahead of gains made by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants in and around Mosul, shelter at the Bahrka Refugee camp, Erbil, northern Iraq, on September 19, 2014. (EPA/Mohamed Messara)

Erbil, Asharq Al-Awsat—Journalists and human rights activists gathered outside the UN office in Erbil to urge the international body to provide greater support for Iraqis fleeing the advance of the Islamist State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) into Iraqi Kurdistan on Saturday.

Activists warned that Iraqis who had sought refuge in the semi-autonomous region could face “a humanitarian disaster” if the UN fails to provide them with the aid they need during winter.

“We have gathered outside the office of the UN general secretariat in Erbil to show support for the displaced and to call on the UN to provide them with all their needs during winter,” Kurdish civil society activist Haiman Ramzi told Asharq Al-Awsat.

While the fate of Syrian Kurds fleeing into Turkey from the town of Kobani and the surrounding area is currently the focus of international media attention, tens of thousands of Iraqis also remain in refugee camps in Iraqi Kurdistan after fleeing the advance of ISIS.

Exposing the scale of the challenge faced by the UN High Commission for Refugees and the Iraqi authorities, the UN estimates that there will be 900,000 internally displaced Iraqis by the end of the year, many of whom have already taken shelter in territory controlled by the KRG.

The protesters accused the UN of failing to act despite receiving “huge amounts of money” in donations.

“We seek through our gathering to place pressure on the [UN] to take an active role in providing the necessary support for the displaced, such as tents and clothes suitable for winter,” she added.

Ramzi maintained that the UN mechanism for helping Iraqi refugees has been very slow, emphasizing the need for international organizations to urgently take action before the arrival of winter.

The massive flow of refugees fleeing Iraq into Kurdistan has stretched the resources of the Erbil government, already suffering from an acute financial crisis.

“The displaced are facing tough living conditions and their numbers are huge and this has placed great pressures on the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG),” Kamiran Ahmed, a journalist who was attending the protest, told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Aid provided by the KRG has been limited to what refugees need during summer, he said, making clear that “Kurdistan does not have the ability to provide the displaced with all services.”

Hemen Fareed, another activist, urged the UN to speed up the delivery of aid.

“The UN provide the humanitarian aid it gets from donor countries through a long term program which does not suit the circumstances of the displaced families in the region,” he said.