News / Middle East

UN Cites Destabilizing Risk of Mass Iraqi Refugee Exodus

A girl, who fled from the violence in Mosul, carries a case of water at a camp on the outskirts of Arbil in Iraq's Kurdistan region, June 12, 2014.
A girl, who fled from the violence in Mosul, carries a case of water at a camp on the outskirts of Arbil in Iraq's Kurdistan region, June 12, 2014.
Reuters
— A senior U.N. humanitarian official on Tuesday flagged the risk of a mass exodus of Iraqi refugees from sectarian bloodshed overwhelming nearby countries already reeling from nearly 3 million uprooted Syrians.

Within Iraq, at least 300,000 people fleeing fighting in the northern city of Mosul have sought shelter in its relatively calm, autonomous Kurdistan region in the past week, according to the United Nations refugee agency. Another 500,000 Iraqis have been on the move within the country since sectarian fighting flared in the western Iraqi province of Anbar in January.

“At the present moment, we have a very serious confrontation and we have meaningful levels of internal displacement. We are not yet witnessing a massive refugee outflow and I think it will depend on whether this crisis can be addressed effectively in the near future or whether it will be a protracted conflict,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres.

“If it will be a protracted conflict, I think it will be inevitable to have again a meaningful outflow of refugees,” he told a press briefing in Geneva.

 
Iraq cities: Mosul, Tikrit, Beiji, Kirkuk, Karbala, Fallujah, BaghdadIraq cities: Mosul, Tikrit, Beiji, Kirkuk, Karbala, Fallujah, Baghdad
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Iraq cities: Mosul, Tikrit, Beiji, Kirkuk, Karbala, Fallujah, Baghdad
Iraq cities: Mosul, Tikrit, Beiji, Kirkuk, Karbala, Fallujah, Baghdad
Forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have made a rapid advance through northern Iraq in the past week, but Baghdad's Shi'ite Muslim rulers defied Western calls on Tuesday to reach out to Sunnis to defuse the crisis.

More than 2.8 million Syrian refugees have registered in neighboring countries, including 225,000 in Iraq, since that country's conflict began in 2011, according to the UNHCR.

“Looking at the situation of the countries of the region, I mean Syria is obviously not a possible destination [for Iraqi refugees], Jordan is now having the enormous pressure of the Syrian refugees,” Guterres said. “So it's difficult to see how the region can cope with another big refugee outflow.”

If there is a mass exodus from Iraq, international solidarity would be absolutely essential, he added.

“Obviously, if that would occur, I would hope that Iraqis could be well received everywhere. But as I said, for the moment the most important is to avoid it,” said Guterres.
 
  • A member of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces stands guard during an intensive security deployment in Baghdad's Amiriya district, June 18, 2014.
  • Shi'ite volunteers who joined the Iraqi army to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant gesture with their weapons in Baghdad, June 18, 2014.
  • A member of Iraqi security forces stands guard in front of volunteers who joined the army to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Baghdad, June 17, 2014.
  • Shi'ite tribal fighters raise their weapons and chant slogans against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Basra, Iraq, June 16, 2014.
  • Mehdi Army fighters loyal to Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr march during military-style training in the holy city of Najaf, Iraq, June 16, 2014.
  • Iraqi army soldiers stand guard in Baghdad, June 16, 2014.
  • A volunteer who joined the Iraqi Army to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant holds a weapon during a parade in Al-Fdhiliya district, eastern Baghdad, June 15, 2014.
  • A vehicle belonging to Kurdish security forces fires a multiple rocket launcher during clashes with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant on the outskirts of Diyala, Iraq, June 14, 2014.
  • This image posted on a militant website on June 14, 2014 appears to show militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant with captured Iraqi soldiers wearing plain clothes after taking over a base in Tikrit, Iraq.
  • This image posted on a militant website on June 14, 2014 appears to show militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant with captured Iraqi soldiers wearing plain clothes after taking over a base in Tikrit, Iraq.

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