Article by: Hoshang Moahmmed, Director General of the Joint Crisis Coordination Centre (JCC) published in the KRG Report: Twenty five years of hope, challenges and progress.
With the formation of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) 25 years ago, the Kurdistan Region was transformed from a source of displaced people to a refuge for the displaced. The 1991 Gulf War over Kuwait focused attention on Iraq. An uprising and refugee crisis attracted world attention and led to UN Security Council Resolution 688 that enabled the imposition of no-fly zones and the stablishment of a safe haven in Iraqi Kurdistan supported by military forces of more than ten countries. Later in 1992 the KRG was established to administer what became known as the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, KRI.
From its very beginning the KRI became a safe haven for displaced people of every ethnic and religious background in Iraq and refugees from neighboring countries. During the 1990s refugees from Turkey, Iran, and Syria sought refuge in the Kurdistan Region. Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), from other parts of Iraq, including Arab Shia members of today’s ruling parties in Baghdad, were also accommodated and protected in the Kurdistan Region during the regime of Saddam Hussein.
Since its establishment in 1992 the KRG has consistently, without discrimination, welcomed and provided security and other basic services to all displaced people who have been victims of terrorism and sectarian violence - Arabs, Armenians, Assyrian and Chaldean Christians, Kakayees, Kurds (from outside the KRI), Muslims–both Sunni and Shia, Sabean-Mandeans, Shabaks, Turkmens, Yezidis, etc.
Following the 2003 war of liberation from the threats and horrors of the regime of Saddam Hussein the number of IDPs rapidly rose. Between 2003 and 2010 over 810,000 IDPs of most ethnic and religious backgrounds in Iraq fled their homes and sought refuge in the Kurdistan Region. Forty six percent of these pre-2010 IDPs remain in the Kurdistan Region, a clear indication of both local cohesion, peaceful coexistence, and a supportive KRG policy. Most found refuge in existing communities, not in camps, where they have had ready access to basic services, including health and education, electricity and water, which has placed extra stress on limited public services and facilities.
Beginning in 2011, escalation of terrorism and sectarian violence culminated in the 2014 ISIS onslaught against major areas, including nearby Mosul City with a population of two million. IDPs seeking
refuge, both registered and unregistered, rose to over 1.8 million. In 2012, civil war in Syria caused over 250,000 to seek refuge in the Kurdistan Region. And military operations to liberate Mosul City during the past year caused an additional 250,000 IDPs to flee to the Kurdistan Region. Some have returned to areas where ISIS has been eliminated that have been made secure.
Thus, over two million displaced registered and unregistered Iraqi IDPs and refugees from neighboring countries have been accommodated in Iraqi Kurdistan under the protection of KRG security forces. This influx has added 32 percent to the population of the Kurdistan Region. The larger area of Iraqi Kurdistan under the protection of KRG security forces accommodates over 40 percent of Iraqi IDPs in 45 IDP camps and 97 percent of Syrian refugees in Iraq in 9 refugee camps.
In addition to management and security facilities and services provided by the KRG, basic camp infrastructure includes, the provision of land, construction of internal roads, installation of electricity
and water networks, establishment of schools and recreational facilities for young people, warehouses for food and other necessities, offices for UN agencies and NGOs providing support services including medical and other personal treatments. Many are also being accommodated outside of camps, which is an additional burden on host communities.
An annual cost to accommodate these displaced people is estimated at US$2 billion (two billion US dollars) of which only 25 percent is being provided by the international community with the KRG bearing the balance 75 percent. This extraordinary situation has been exacerbated by Baghdad stopping payment of Kurdistan’s agreed share of Iraq’s federal annual budget and the dramatic fall in the price of oil on which the Kurdistan Region depends for public revenue.
For decades, Iraqi Kurdistan has been subjected to deliberate governmentinstigated demographic changes that have been among the root causes of conflict. IDPs from other parts of Iraq who seek refuge in the Kurdistan Region often find themselves in an environment of another country, where they do not speak local languages and are unfamiliar with local culture and governance systems. Iraqi Kurdistan is predominantly a Kurdish language area while the rest of Iraq primarily speaks Arabic.
First and foremost, a very fair assumption to act upon is that displaced people inherently desire to return to their homes and the relatively stable lives they once knew. The KRG fully supports their return under an effective, sustainable process that is safe, voluntary, dignified, with full consideration of their best interests. Where ISIS has been eliminated and security is reasonably assured, extensive destruction of private properties, public facilities and services, especially water and electricity, have discouraged displaced people from returning to their homes.
Any longer stay will have dire consequences for the host communities and the displaced population as well. Iraq in general and the Kurdistan Region in particular have significantly suffered from systematic demographic change policies of the Iraqi regimes during the last century, which until now were among the root causes of internal conflicts. The protracted displacement similarly will result in demographic changes in the host communities and in the liberated areas.
In the meantime, in keeping with the values of its people who welcome all displaced persons fleeing terrorism and sectarian strife, the KRG will continue to welcome, host, and support all peoples who are forcibly displaced, regardless of their ethnic and religious backgrounds. Iraqi Kurdistan has a long, ancient heritage of thousands of rural communities – Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Yezidi, Kakayee – who have been coexisting for centuries.