Iraq: Kurdish authorities must not block passage of civilians fleeing fighting

Thousands of exhausted Iraqi civilians fleeing the conflict in north-west Iraq are stranded at checkpoints separating the autonomous Kurdish provinces controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the rest of Iraq, said Amnesty International today.  

Almost all the families interviewed by Amnesty International’s research team in Iraq today and last night are Shi’a Turkmen who fled Tal ‘Afar when fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) captured the city two weeks ago. They have since been sheltering in the Sinjar area, further west towards the Iraq-Syria border, but do not feel safe there as ISIS recently took control of parts of the border area. 

“Thousands of frightened civilians have left their homes and their lives behind only to find themselves stranded on the streets. The Kurdish regional authorities have an obligation to allow Iraqi civilians seeking to flee the fighting to enter or transit through KRG areas,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser. 

One man, a father of eight who had just driven nearly seven hours from Sinjar, taking a long detour to avoid Mosul and his home town of Tal ‘Afar which are now under ISIS control told Amnesty International:  “We do not want to stay in Kurdistan; we just want to pass through to get to the road southbound to Baghdad and on to Najaf in the south”.

Sunni Muslims who have also been fleeing areas under ISIS control (Mosul, Tal ‘Afar and surrounding areas) in large numbers for fear of government airstrikes have similarly been facing increasing difficulties to enter KRG areas; many have simply given up trying and  returned home where they live in fear.

An estimated 1 million people have been displaced in Iraq since January 2014. According to the International Organization of Migration (IOM) there were 10,000 internally displaced people within the Sinjar district as of 25 June.