Agencies appeal for aid as humanitarian crisis deepens in Iraq

Already stretched by the conflict in Syria, NGOs are trying desperately to assist displaced Iraqis

Iraqi refugees fleeing from Mosul head to the self-ruled northern Kurdish region, as soldiers watch them pass an area in Irbil, 350km (217 miles) north of Baghdad, last week. Photograph: AP

Iraqi refugees fleeing from Mosul head to the self-ruled northern Kurdish region, as soldiers watch them pass an area in Irbil, 350km (217 miles) north of Baghdad, last week. Photograph: AP

Fri, Jun 20, 2014, 01:01

Since the seizure of Iraq’s second city, Mosul, on June 10th by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis), 500,000 people have been displaced from the city and other contested areas.

The latest mass flight doubles the number of internal refugees from Nineveh, Anbar and Salaheddin provinces to one million this year, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) reports. Some 200,000 Iraqis have also become refugees in neighbouring countries.

Unicef, the UN agency for children, says at least 450,000 of those driven from their homes this year are children. The agency has described the humanitarian disaster in Iraq as a level-three crisis, the highest designation, which has also been given to the situation in neighbouring Syria.

Insecurity spreading

The IOM has issued an urgent appeal for $15 million (€11 million) to obtain and distribute 30,000 non-food relief items and 5,000 tents.

“Insecurity is spreading across the whole of Iraq and we foresee a protracted humanitarian crisis . . . We do not have the funds to reply adequately,” said Mandie Alexander, IOM’s co-ordinator in Baghdad.

Priority needs for displaced civilians within Mosul include water, food and fuel. Food and shelter are urgently required for those outside Mosul, particularly families at border checkpoints.

An efficient system for the distribution of water is essential as the temperature stands at 42 degrees in Mosul, 45 degrees in Irbil, which has received 100,000 displaced people, and 40 degrees in Dohuk, which is hosting 200,000 Iraqis.

Some have moved in with friends or relatives; others are living in mosques and disused schools or sharing hotel rooms. Money is running out for many, and children are begging in the streets to pay for food and accommodation.

For “the vast majority” of displaced people, finding shelter is a “major challenge”, said Shoko Shimozawa, the Iraq representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

As thousands of men, women and children fled Mosul last week, Save the Children said it was “ witnessing one of the largest and swiftest mass movements of people in the world in recent history”. The charity warned: “The most vulnerable families are those left behind [under Isis occupation] and it’s extremely difficult to reach them . . . as the violence continues. We are also extremely concerned over how the Kurdistan [autonomous] region of Iraq will cope with the influx.”

Kurdish region

The authorities in the Kurdish region are severely stretched as they are providing aid for 220,000 refugees from the conflict in Syria.

Save the Children has deployed teams in the Kurdish area, distributing water, food and hygiene kits to families, while the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is scaling up aid.

“We need to be prepared for significantly higher numbers of people displaced,” said NRC secretary general Jan Egeland.

The NRC is supplying water and sanitation facilities at a transit camp on the road between Mosul and Irbil.

The International Rescue Committee, Mercy Corps, Muslim Hands and Islamic Relief are conducting surveys and providing aid to a limited number of displaced families.

They are also calling for donations at a time when aid programmes for Syrian refugees are disastrously underfunded.

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