The recent turmoil taking place in Iraq has caused massive changes in the political, social and cultural landscape of the country. One interesting area that hasn’t been given very much attention is Kurdistan, located in the northernmost portion of the country.
The semi-autonomous region has remained very stable, which is particularly intriguing considering that the rest of the country is beginning to unravel. As a result, it has become a very desirable destination for Iraqi refugees suffering from the turmoil in their local communities; the number of Iraqis attempting to cross the Kurdistan border has grown.
When conflict first started to break out in Iraq, the Kurdistan borders were open for any Iraqi who needed shelter and security. In the immediate aftermath of ISIS taking Mosul, around 500,000 Iraqis made their way into Kurdistan. However, more recently the border has been significantly tightened as fewer and fewer people are able to cross into Kurdistan.
According to various NGOs working along the border, checkpoints have been increasingly closed off to migrants, leaving thousands waiting for days on end in the blazing heat. This wait is made even worse by a severe lack of information and limited access to food, water and shelter.
One major checkpoint, Khazair, does have a transit camp that is open to those waiting to get into Kurdistan. It offers some modicum of shelter and safety, but very little comfort. A recent report from REACH has indicated that just under half of the refugees were at the camp because they had been refused entry into Kurdistan.
Despite these less than ideal circumstances along the Kurdish border, there’s an even deeper layer to the process of entering the area. Various rights groups have brought attention to different levels of access offered to people and families based on their religious affiliation and ethnicity. Kurds, Christians, and those who have sponsors inside Kurdistan are able to cross with relative ease.
In comparison, Sunni and Shia Arabs have been regularly stopped and/or sent to temporary holding sites. As one senior aid worker from an NGO who chose to remain anonymous said, “The blocking of entry to people along ethnic lines is an issue and it needs to be looked at.”
This problem is only exacerbated by the fact that the Kurdish Regional Government has no well-defined entry policy for their region. As Liene Viede, a public information officer for the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) explained: “There is no general and common access policy… According to the observations of our monitors, access policies applied at checkpoints are increasingly unpredictable.”
It remains to be seen how badly this discrimination is affecting the overall access to Kurdistan, or whether more complete or better defined regulations regarding border crossings are in the works. However, the lack of predictability and potential for conflict along ethnic lines is beginning to loom large in what is considered to be one of the most stable areas in the country.
– Andre Gobbo
Sources: IRIN 1, REACH, IRIN 2
Photo: The Guardian