ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, is working with the governments in Baghdad and Erbil to promote the “safe and dignified” return of displaced people to their homes, the agency told Rudaw on Friday.
UNHCR spokesperson Firas al-Khateeb said the agency is facilitating cooperation between Baghdad, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), and the international community to help return internally displaced persons (IDPs) forced to flee the war with the Islamic State group (ISIS).
The agency is also supporting Syrian refugees displaced by successive bouts of violence in neighboring Syria.
“UNHCR always supports a dignified and voluntarily return and not a forced return of refugees and IDPs,” Khateeb said.
“The returns of IDPs and refugees should be always with dignity and be safe, as well as sustainable.”
“UNHCR is working with the Iraqi government and KRG to reach a solution and provide safe and sustainable return of the IDPs,” he added.
At the height of the war with ISIS, some six million Iraqis were displaced across the country. Displacement was particularly pronounced in the north and west of the country in the provinces of Anbar, Nineveh, Kirkuk, and Saladin.
According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), there are 1,414,632 IDPs in Iraq today. More than 4,500,000 have returned to their place of origin.
There are roughly 240,000 Syrian refugees in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region who have fled violence and conscription into various armed forces since 2011, including the recent Turkish invasion of northern Syria, according to UNHCR.
UNHCR spokesperson Firas al-Khateeb speaks to Rudaw, January 24, 2020. Photo: Rudaw TV
Khateeb said around 20,000 Syrian refugees have entered the Kurdistan Region since Turkey launched Operation Peace Spring against the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on October 9.
Since the incursion began, several camps for displaced persons in the Kurdistan Region have been reopened, with more Syrians now enduring another winter in tents.
In the wake of Syrian unrest of 2011, millions of Syrians fled to Turkey and other neighboring states, including Jordan and Lebanon. Others made the perilous journey to Europe. Some estimates place the death toll over the past eight years of conflict at 370,000.
Additional reporting by Mohammed Rwanduzy