The U.N. refugee agency reports tens of thousands of people who have escaped from Sinjar Mountain in northwest Iraq through Syria have gone back into Iraq’s Kurdish region over the past three days. The UNHCR warns the deepening displacement crisis brought on by the onslaught of militants in northern Iraq is overwhelming the ability of aid agencies to respond to the growing humanitarian needs.
The refugee agency reports as many as 35,000 people from the minority Yazidi religious group has arrived in the Dohuk governorate of the Kurdish Region of Iraq. The group recently fled Islamist militants who threatened to kill them if they did not convert to Islam.
Many who fled to the barren Sinjar mountains remain stranded there, while others have managed to escape to Syria and, have now arrived back in Iraq's Kurdish territory. Aid workers describe the new arrivals as exhausted and dehydrated. They say many have suffered sun or heat stroke, with daily temperatures reaching 40 to 50 degrees Celsius.
UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards says up to 30,000 Yazidi remain trapped on Sinjar Mountain without food, water or shelter. He says access to them is extremely limited. He tells VOA the situation is very fluid and the numbers of displaced continue to rise.
“They are in an extremely precarious situation…The risk is the conditions that they are in -- extreme heat. People are arriving now very dehydrated," he said. "They are in urgent need of medical help, of food, of water, of other attention. And I think those are the two things we are focused on -- both the risk from the security side and the risk to them of this extremely hot and difficult and hard to reach situation…We are trying to do…what we can simply address the enormous humanitarian needs.”
There now are more than 1.2 million internally displaced people in Iraq, including an estimated 700,000 in the Kurdish region. This is in addition to the 225,000 Syrian refugees who had earlier fled there from the civil war in their country.
The Iraqi city of Zakho, close to the Turkish border, has a population of 350,000. The UNHCR says Zakho is hosting some 100,000 displaced people, mainly from Sinjar and Zumar who have fled there over the past week.
Refugee spokesman Edwards says Dohuk governorate is hosting close to 400,000 displaced Iraqis. They include Yazidis, Christians, Shabak, Kakai, Armenian and Turkman minorities. He says some have been displaced several times.
“They are scattered across hundreds of sites. Some people are staying with relatives. Others are in schools, churches, mosques, other communal buildings," he said. "UNHCR is distributing blankets, emergency relief kits, household aid to people in these locations. We are also seeing enormous generosity by the local community who are themselves handing out aid to people.”
Edwards says between 7,000 and 10,000 displaced Iraqis are staying at a camp, which formerly served as a reception center for Syrian refugees. He says conditions are very crowded, but the camp has basic facilities, such as water, electricity, and other essential infrastructure. He says three more camps are being planned to house more displaced people in several cities in Dohuk governorate.