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Iraq's Displaced Top One Million

  • Lisa Schlein

The International Organization for Migration reports fighting in Iraq between Islamic State rebels and Kurdish Peshmerga military has pushed the number of internally displaced people in Iraq to over one million. IOM says this is the highest number of IDPs in Iraq since the Islamist advance began in January.

According to IOM, more than 54 percent of Iraq's displaced have fled their homes since June. That is when Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, began an accelerated push for territory in northern Iraq.

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The militants have seized control of large swathes of territory from the Iraqi government, including the important city of Mosul. While the current displacement numbers are dramatic, IOM spokesman Chris Lom says they are probably grossly underestimated.

“All these numbers are extremely fluid," said Lom. "They clearly do not include people who are actually on the move and particularly these people in the mountains who, up to now, we have been unable to access.”

Mass exodus

Attacks by Islamic State against Iraq’s Yazidi religious group have triggered a mass exodus from Nineveh’s Sinjar region. About 140,000 reportedly have fled this week, most to Kurdish-controlled areas. The U.N. reports some 50,000 people, half of them children, have escaped to the Sinjar Mountains on the border with Syria.

A spokeswoman for the World Food Program, Elizabeth Byrs, says the Yazidi remain trapped in the mountains, unable to reach safe areas and humanitarian aid.

"Many of he families who fled violence in Nineveh’s Sinjar region in recent weeks are in urgent need of water, food and shelter," she said. "You know that there are very high temperatures. It is very difficult to live in this type of conditions and people are looking for water and food and WFP is very concerned.”

US air drops

Aid agencies report the humanitarian situation of the Yazidi is dire. The United States has begun airdrops of food and water to help the desperate men, women and children survive.

The U.N. Human Rights Office says it is deeply alarmed by the situation in northern Iraq, particularly the situation of vulnerable minority groups, including the Yazidi, Christian and Turkomen communities.

Spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani says her office continues to receive worrying reports of atrocities being committed by the Islamic State against the groups.

“We do have very worrying information of children dying of the recruitment of child soldiers," she said. "And, we also have very disturbing reports of the treatment of women - women being sold as sex slaves and, you know, being punished for not adhering to the misinterpretations of Islamic law as well. We have very worrying reports of these.”

Shamdasani says widespread or systematic attacks directed against any civilian population because of their ethnic background, religion or belief might constitute a crime against humanity. She says all armed groups, including the Islamic State, must abide by international humanitarian law, including that of protecting civilians.