UNHCR head calls for urgent political solution to Iraq's deepening crisis

News Stories, 18 July 2014

© UNHCR/N.Colt
UN High Commissioner for refugees António Guterres talks with an Iraqi father in Khazair Transit camp in northern Kurdistan who described how he and his family were forced to flee from Mosul

ERBIL, Iraq, 18 July (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres warned on Friday that Iraq risks "full-fledged sectarian war and complete fragmentation" as Iraqis continue to flee their homes and minority groups are targeted.

Iraqi politicians and the international community are "running out of time to act," he said.

In high-level talks in Baghdad on Wednesday, he urged leaders to move urgently to a political solution and to "seize this last chance to bring everyone together in a non-sectarian approach. Otherwise, we risk a true sectarian war."

The UNHCR head encouraged regional and global governments to provide support. "Countries with influence also need to constructively work towards a solution," he said. "This is a threat to everybody nobody is safe."

Guterres witnessed the dire conditions facing some of the more than 650,000 Iraqis displaced by conflict since January. At the Khazair transit camp, midway between the Iraqi cities of Erbil and Mosul, he walked the dusty paths between some 500 tents provided by UNHCR where Iraqi Shiites, Sunnis and others are now living.

A father who fled fighting in Mosul a month ago told Guterres his son had returned to the city last week to check on their house and found it occupied and partly destroyed.

Guterres noted the dramatic impact on the economy and society from the influx of more than 225,000 Syrian refugees and over 300,000 newly displaced Iraqis. He appealed to the international community to "enhance support to the government & people in the Kurdistan region in this very difficult moment."

"The Middle East is in flames," he said. 'Kurdistan represents one of the few stable areas where protection can be granted."

The High Commissioner said a forthcoming $500 million contribution by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will help the UN provide critical humanitarian aid to Iraqis. "Others need to come forward to help Kurdistan cope with this terrible challenge," he said.

On Friday, the High Commissioner travelled to the new Arbat refugee camp in the northern city of Sulaymaniyah, now home to more than 3,000 Syrians who fled the civil war. Of almost three million Syrian refugees, 225,000 are in Iraq. Noting the region's stability, Guterres said "without Kurdistan, many people fleeing would have no place to go."

Guterres' visited Iraq to pay respect to the internally displaced, Syrian refugees and their host communities and show solidarity during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. He spoke of his concerns for all Iraqis, especially minorities, who are at risk.

"Everybody needs to be protected," he said. "Everybody seeking access should be given refuge without discrimination. Everybody deserves to be safe."

He praised the commitment by the president and prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq to "maintain a policy of open borders and doors to all people in need of help regardless of ethnicity or religion. This attitude of tolerance and openness has an important symbolic meaning at a time when we need to avoid at all cost a sectarian civil war in Iraq."

He was blunt in assessing what UNHCR and the broader humanitarian community can accomplish. "What we do is minimize suffering. There is no humanitarian solution for this tragic humanitarian crisis. There is no way humanitarians can clean up the mess made by politicians. What they really need is peace."

By Edward Colt and Melissa Fleming

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

Internally Displaced People

The internally displaced seek safety in other parts of their country, where they need help.

Iraq Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Make a gift now to help protect and assist those fleeing violence in Iraq.

Donate to this crisis

CAR Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Make a gift now to help protect and assist those fleeing violence in Central African Republic.

Donate to this crisis

Advocacy

Advocacy is a key element in UNHCR activities to protect people of concern.

Related Internet Links

UNHCR is not responsible for the content and availability of external internet sites

Syrians stream from their war-torn country into Iraq's Kurdistan region

Thousands of Syrians streamed across a bridge over the Tigris River and into Iraq's Kurdistan region on Thursday, August 15th. UNHCR Field Officer, Galiya Gubaeva, was on the ground with her camera.

Syrians stream from their war-torn country into Iraq's Kurdistan region

Iraq: Massive displacement from Mosul

In the past few days, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have fled fighting in the northern city of Mosul and other areas. UNHCR staff are on the ground to monitor the outflow and help those in need. The needs are immense, but UNHCR is working to provide shelter, protection, and emergency items, including tents. Many of the displaced left their homes without belongings and some lack money for housing, food, water or medical care. They arrive at checkpoints between Ninewa governorate and the Kurdistan region with no idea of where to go next, or how to pay expenses.

UN agencies, humanitarian groups, and government officials are coordinating efforts to do what they can to aid those in need. UN agencies are making an emergency request for additional support. UNHCR is hoping to provide emergency kits as well as thousands of tents. UNHCR and its partners will also be working to protect and help the displaced.

The exodus in the north comes on top of massive displacement this year in the western Iraqi governorate of Anbar, where fighting since January has forced some half-a-million people to flee the province or seek shelter in safer areas.

Iraq: Massive displacement from Mosul

Iraq Crisis: Finding a Place to Stay

Tens of thousands of people have fled to Erbil and Duhok governorates in Iraq's Kurdistan region over the past week, sheltering in schools, mosques, churches and temporary camps following a surge of violence in parts of central and northern Iraq. UNHCR and its partners have been working to meet the urgent shelter needs. The refugee agency has delivered close to 1,000 tents to a transit camp being built by the authorities and NGOs at Garmawa, near Duhok.

Many of the people arriving from Mosul at checkpoints between Ninewa and governorate and Iraq's Kurdistan region have limited resources and cannot afford to pay for shelter. Some people stay with family, while others are staying in hotels and using up their meagre funds.

In the village of Alqosh, some 150 people from 20 families, with little more than the clothes on their back, have been living in several overcrowded classrooms in a primary school for the past week. One member of the group said they had lived in a rented apartment in Mosul and led a normal family life. But in Alqosh, they feared for the welfare and education of their children and the presence of snakes and scorpions.

Iraq Crisis: Finding a Place to Stay

Iraq: Breaking BreadPlay video

Iraq: Breaking Bread

Shareef fled to Iraq a year ago to escape the violence in Syria. He opened a bakery, which has done great business. When he heard about a new wave of displacement in northern Iraq in August, he decided to help those in need by providing bread.
Iraq: Moving to a New Camp in KhankePlay video

Iraq: Moving to a New Camp in Khanke

A new camp for displaced people is taking shape in the village of Khanke in Iraq's Kurdistan region, with the help of UNHCR and its partners. After weeks of uncomfortable living in the courtyard of an old public building, Chenar and her ethnic Yazidi family are looking forward to moving to the new facility.
Iraq: Massive UNHCR Aid OperationPlay video

Iraq: Massive UNHCR Aid Operation

The UN refugee agency is conducting a massive aid operation to assist some 500,000 Iraqis displaced by conflict in northern Iraq. It includes airlifts, and transport of aid by road and sea.