The head of the UN’s refugee agency praised Iraq’s autonomous region of Kurdistan for welcoming hundreds of thousands of displaced people and urged the world to offer it “massive” support.
Antonio Guterres told reporters during a visit to the Al-Khazar camp for displaced Iraqis that he was “humbled by the generosity and the solidarity of the government and of the people of Kurdistan in this very difficult moment.”
People forced from their homes in Iraq’s Nineveh governorate since a jihadist-led offensive that started on June 9 have fled en masse to neighbouring Kurdistan, which has remained largely stable.
Guterres stressed that the autonomous region had already borne a heavy burden with an earlier influx of refugees from war-torn Syria and he added that the strain was made worse by the fact that the government in Baghdad had stopped sending Arbil its share of federal oil revenue.
“And even without those resources, the government and people of Kurdistan have been receiving all these people and sharing with them everything they have,” he said.
Kurdistan and the Shiite-dominated federal government have been locked in an escalating war of words in recent weeks.
Arbil blames Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for the security collapse that saw extremist Sunni militants seize large swathes of land in western and northern Iraq.
Maliki has in turn accused the Kurdish leadership of taking advantage of the chaos to expand the borders of its envisioned independent state by moving into disputed territories, and of illegally exporting Iraqi oil.
Guterres, who met Iraqi leaders in Baghdad on Wednesday, urged the international community “to provide massive support for the Iraqis displaced, for the Iraqi victims of this conflict, but also to provide massive support to the government and the people in Kurdistan.”
He said that the population of internally displaced people in Iraq now topped two million.