Erbil, Asharq Al-Awsat—Approximately two million Iraqi citizens, mainly from the country’s central and western governorates, sought refuge from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan in 2014, an official from the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration told Asharq Al-Awsat.
In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, director of Iraq’s Ministry of Displacement and Migration office in Erbil Alia Al-Bazzaz said: “The number of [Iraqis] displaced to the Kurdistan region, from the provinces of Anbar, Diyala and Salah Al-Din, has reached approximately two million. The majority of them are in Dahuk, while others are located in Erbil and Sulaymaniyah.”
“They are distributed between those who live in [refugee] camps and others who are living outside the camps in Kurdistan Region cities and towns,” she added.
The first wave of Iraqi refugees arrived in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan in early 2014 following ISIS’s takeover of parts of western Anbar province. ISIS’s subsequent occupation of the northern city of Mosul in June resulted in a second-wave of Iraqi refugees seeking asylum in the region. As Iraq’s Sunni-majority cities began to fall, one by one, into the hands of advancing jihadist fighters, Iraqi Kurdistan has become increasingly overcrowded with fleeing civilians.
The growing number of refugees has placed pressure on the semi-autonomous region with assistance from the central government in Baghdad remaining sporadic.
“The federal government had offered a one million Iraqi dinar grant to 95 percent of the displaced but we have been forced to suspend aid over the past two weeks due to a lack of sufficient funds,” Bazzaz said.
The town of Shaqlawa, 30 mile northeast of Kurdish capital Erbil, has seen its population more than double following a massive influx of refugees in the wake of ISIS’s attack on Mosul.
“According to recent statistics, there are around six thousand [refugee] families, that is around 35,000 people, in the town. By contrast the original population of the town stood at around 25,000,” a senior administrative official Zarkar Hassan told Asharq Al-Awsat.
He said: “The main problem facing refugees is finding accommodation and paying the rent as well as providing for their children’s education. We have opened three schools for refugees in the city center but now have trouble transporting pupils from their homes in the suburbs to the schools.”
Zarkar said that Baghdad is not providing sufficient aid for the displaced Iraqi citizens, calling on the central government and UN to help refugees in the city.
“The ministry of Displacement and Migration is not doing much for the refugees but the Kurdistan Regional Government has offered all that it can. I appeal to the federal government and its ministries, particularly the ministries of health, displacement and petroleum to help,” Zarkar said.