ERBIL — Even though the Islamic State (IS) rule in most of the strategic cities and towns of Iraq has been drawn to a close, yet the number of civilians escaping their homes to seek refuge in Kurdistan Region is on the rise. During our visit to Hasan-Sham camp (some 25 kilometres to the east of Mosul in northern Iraq), officials said that they receive 100 to 150 families escaping Mosul everyday while a much smaller number of IDPs return to their areas of origin.
Following the fall of Mosul into the grips of IS in June 2014, which led to the expansion of the group’s rule across northern and western Iraq, hundreds of thousands of civilians fled their homes, most of them heading to Kurdistan Region in hopes of finding a safe haven under the protection of Kurdish Peshmerga forces.
Roughly two million Iraqi IDPs and Syrian refugees are now sheltered by Kurdistan Regional government (KRG) across the three provinces of Erbil, Duhok and Sulaymaniyah. With the liberation of Mosul earlier this year in July, the Mosul IDPs were expected to eventually return to their homes; but obscure situation in the city as well as the unstable security and inadequate public service pose another challenge to their return.
Director of IDP Camps of Hassan-Sham Zone, Rizgar Obeid, said that his office facilitates the return of 30 to 40 families everyday who voluntarily register to leave the camps and head back to Mosul. “But, on the other hand, we continue taking in more and more civilian families who escape the liberated areas. Almost 100 to 150 families everyday are received,” Obeid told BasNews.
The official further explained that lack of public services, including electricity, potable water, schools and hospitals are the main reasons for the ongoing flow of IDPs from Mosul to Kurdistan Region. Also, he added, most of the houses have been taken down by years of airstrikes and IEDs, just another reason for the desperate people to show no willingness to return to their hometown.
The five camps in Hassan-Sham Zone, home to 15,000 IDP families (about 77,000 individuals), are administered and supplied by Barzani Charity Foundation (BCF). The organisation, with the help of international humanitarian aid partners, provides tents, basics, food, potable water, electricity, heath service, and education to the residents.
However, Obeid said that some services, including maternity hospitals and more ambulances are urgently needed at the camps, and yet to be provided by international organisations or the local government.
The BCF, hoping to expand its aid campaign to every corner of Iraq and the wider region, has recently started delivering food supplies and basics to those who have returned to Mosul. Obeid pointed out that over 1,000 Mosul families receive assistance from the BCF three days a week.
The huge number of IDPs and refugees, has faced Kurdistan Region with another challenge amid its already prolonging financial crisis. But it also gains the Kurds a worldwide reputation for their hospitality, sense of coexistence, and peaceful spirit towards people escaping the brutality of hardliner IS jihadists.