Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Islamic State offensive creates flood of new refugees in Iraq

There have been many internally displaced Iraqis in Iraq during the Saddam Hussein era and ever since. The offensive of the Islamic State that overran most of several provinces has exacerbated the situation with many refugees now outside Iraq as well.

Ammar Younes is an example of one internally displaced Iraqi. Younes sits in a frigid refugee camp in the Kurdish region busy picking shrapnel from a wound in his legs. He was hurt when Islamic State radicals placed a bomb under his car in Mosul. He was a trainer for the Iraqi armed forces and had worked for three years with US forces in Iraq. He was still in the hospital when the Islamic State took over and had to flee still wearing his medical gown. Younes is just one of an estimated more than 2 million Iraqis who have been added to the already huge number of internally displaced and refugee Iraqis.
Estimation of earlier numbers can be found here. Almost 1.7 million Iraqis fled their homes during the period of 2006 to 2008 during the sectarian violence after the US led invasion and occupation of 2003. Most of them have still not been able to return home. Now the Islamic State offensive has created more displaced persons. Added to this, there are more than 3.2 million Syrian refugees some of whom sought refuge in Iraq as well.
The Iraqi government is facing a financial crisis with war costs and plunging oil prices. Added to all this is the upcoming winter season that in some areas sees temperatures fall below freezing adding to the misery of those in refugee camps. A map showing the relative numbers of refugees in different areas can be seen here. Almost half of this year's refugees have crowded into Iraqi Kurdistan which is already dealing with 200,000 Syrian refugees. Aid agencies claim that Kurdish authorities are now tightening entry to refugees. People trying to flee from Mosul, controlled by the Islamic State, claim that checkpoints run by the Iraqi army or Shiite militias turn them away.
CBS News puts the earlier number of Syrian refugees in Kurdistan at 250,000 but since the Islamic State began its offensive in June of this year there are now more than 1.5 million in the area. While many are in specially built camps, others are forced to live in unfinished buildings or makeshift shelters. As winter closes in, there is no hope of return to areas occupied now by the Islamic State. The UN and the Kurdistan government have issued an urgent call for a further $152.2 million to provide food, shelter, and medical assistance for displaced persons in the region.
The UN assistance program is chronically underfunded with only 31 percent of the planned spending received. The World Food Program is so short of money that it has even stopped procuring supplies for those displaced. The present distribution of food boxes for families will end by next February unless more funds are forthcoming. Barbara Manzi, the outgoing representative of the UN Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs, that runs the program said:“It’s not that we can do more with less; it’s that we don’t have anything and the needs on the ground are immense.”

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