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Thousands of Iraqi famillies fleeing Mosul
Image: Getty Images/Afp//Safin Hamed

Mosul exodus

Hermione Gee / sp
June 12, 2014

Refugees are pouring into Iraq’s Kurdistan region as thousands flee militant fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). They tell DW of the chaos sweeping northern Iraq.


Residents of Mosul are fleeing the insurgent-controlled city to seek refuge from further fighting. Starting on Monday, long lines of cars waited at the Khazir checkpoint leading to the regional capital of Erbil, with hundreds of others arriving at the crossing on foot.

"We are not afraid of [the militants]," one man told DW. "We are afraid that the government will bomb the city, like they did in Fallujah."

On Tuesday (10.06.2014), fighters from the ISIS, an al Qaeda splinter group, overran Iraqi security forces in Mosul, capital of the northern Nineveh province. The move sent shock waves across the Middle East.

The Geneva-based International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the takeover had "displaced over 500,000 people in and around the city."

Looming humanitarian crisis?

Reports say aid agencies are now under pressure to deliver humanitarian aid, as nobody had expected Mosul to fall so dramatically. The head of Kurdistan's regional government in Iraq, Nechirvan Barzani, has issued a statement appealing to the UN refugee agency for help.

The fighting has caused panic and chaos in the region. A group of five or six Iraqi army soldiers who had abandoned their posts in Mosul and walked the 90 kilometers (56 miles) to the Kurdistan border were amongst those trying to enter the autonomous region. Dressed in civilian clothing, they had thrown away their army identification in case they were stopped by militants while attempting to leave Mosul.

A tank in Mosul
The city of Mosul has been overrun by ISIS fightersImage: Getty Images/Afp//Safin Hamed

"Our commanders just left," said one soldier, who gave his name as Ahmet. "How can we fight when there is no one to give us orders?"

A woman waiting at the checkpoint with her six children said she had to leave because ISIS fighters set up camp in front of her house and demanded that she feed them. "I was afraid, so we left, but I've been here all day and I have no food, no water. I don't know what to do."

Swelling refugees in Kurdistan

Kurdistan is already home to over 230,000 Syrian refugees who fled across the border to escape the war in Syria.

On Wednesday, the UNHCR estimated that around 320,000 internally displaced people from Mosul have entered Kurdistan, which will only serve to increase the already heavy burden on the Kurdistan Regional Government and on humanitarian organizations operating in the region.

The influx also raises concerns about the future security of the region, which until now has been one of Iraq's only bastions of peace and security. Unlike much of the Iraqi army, Kurdish security forces are well-trained and deeply loyal and have been very effective in keeping terrorists out of the region.

Part of their strategy has been to scrutinize ethnic Arabs trying to enter Kurdistan. This week's wave of non-Kurdish Iraqis from Mosul crossing into the region threatens to increase the possibility of infiltration by terrorist elements.

‘We just want to be safe'

A makeshift camp is being established near the checkpoint and will be able to house 100 families. Three other camps will be set up in Duhok province. One family moving into the Khazir camp on Wednesday afternoon had come prepared, with their small truck packed with bedding and cooking equipment.

A refugee near a camp near Mosul
Some aid agencies are setting up makeshift campsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"We don't know how long we'll stay. When it's safe, we'll go back to Mosul," the father of the family, Bashar, told DW, pointing to his 15-day-old baby daughter, Roya. "We just want to be safe."

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