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UN, Camps in Iraq Prepare for New Wave of War Victims


U.N. and camp officials in Iraq's northern Kurdistan region are already preparing for another wave of Iraqis displaced by war to flood into the area as the conflict against Islamic extremists rages on.

Since the war against the Islamic State militant group erupted in 2014, more than 1 million displaced Iraqis have flooded into Kurdistan.

The majority are living packed into cheap hotels, with entire families sharing one small bedroom. Others are crammed into churches, or paying rent to live in unfurnished houses, waiting for food aid to feed dozens of children. Still, others are in temporary camps.

Reaching a limit

The UNHCR’s coordinator for the Kurdistan region, Jozef Merkx, warned that the area’s ability to absorb more people was quickly reaching its limit.

“The absorption capacity is limited and at the moment that absorption capacity is fully stretched because you can imagine, that additional population needs to have access to health, to education, to water, to electricity,” Merkx told VOA.

In some parts of Kurdistan, 25 to 30 percent of the people were displaced Iraqis, and Kurdistan was already facing its own economic crisis, he said.

Yet more displaced Iraqis are expected.

“If Mosul is going to be retaken, we have to be prepared for more displacement into the Kurdistan region,” Merkx said. “And of course, we need tents, we need emergency stocks, to address the needs if people have to flee again from areas that might be affected by conflict.”

Ahmed Abdul, director of the Baharka camp on the outskirts of Irbil, said it's not only the newly displaced who would need help and those who have been living on their own were running out of money and were now on waiting lists to enter camps.

“We are expecting that this issue or that this crisis will still continue and we are expecting more and more families [that we need] to provide them with accommodation and shelter,” he said.

Families arrive daily

Abdul pointed at a site map pinned onto the wall of a metal container unit sitting in the 46-degree Celsius (115-degree Fahrenheit) heat that functions as an office. He said families arrived on a daily basis, so the camp was hoping to extend its borders to allow another 100 families to take shelter.

Abdul said few were seeing a way out of what began as an emergency one year ago.

“Go inside the camp and ask people; actually they have no hope until now, they have no hope to stop this crisis," he said.

Located on the dusty outskirts of Irbil, Baharka is one of the more settled camps. Hundreds of other less well-equipped camps are scattered around the region.

Warning of possible mass migration out of the region, aid agencies are already appealing for more help.

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    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.

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