ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The Prime Minister of Kurdistan Region outlined the Kurdistan Region's vulnerability to ongoing instability in the Middle East and Iraq, which continues to threaten reconstruction and progress in the region, on the second day of the Middle East Peace and Security Forum at the American University of Kurdistan.
Prime Minister Barzani, who was a keynote speaker on Wednesday, opened the discussion on the panel with an update on the current humanitarian crisis in the region.
“Security and the rise of terrorism, ethnic cleansings, economic collapses, and political differences led to the flow of refugees and displacement of people from one area to another,” he explained. “Many of these people came to the Kurdistan Region, which, by itself, says a lot: That Kurdistan is a much safer place, respects and protects people who are fleeing the threat of terror” and conflict, argued Barzani.
The Kurdistan Region currently hosts up to 1.5 million refugees and IDPs, with an additional 16,000 Syrian refugees settling in camps in the Kurdistan Region since the start of Turkey's operation in northeastern Syria.
“This is a huge responsibility for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), as well as an enormous load on its resources as we have been taking care of these people for many years. We were hoping the federal government of Iraq and international community would come to the assistance of the KRG to help, but unfortunately, the level of assistance we have seen so far has not been to the point where it can lighten the burden on the KRG itself.”
Prime Minister Barzani noted it costs the KRG “roughly1.5 billion dollars annually to maintain support to refugees and IDPs, and this will continue unless there are solutions to help these people return to their original homes.” Many have expressed the lack of security, safe shelter, and access to essential services, schools and sources of income as factors preventing their return.
“We are calling on the international community to help us, first to take care of IDPs and refugees, but also to assist them in returning to their areas of origin,” by addressing their concerns and meeting their needs through additional support.
Barzani warned that the threat of the Islamic State in the region remained, as the terrorist group persists in vulnerable and disputed areas. “ISIS, to us, is not just a caliphate or a number of people carrying guns and threatening people. It is an ideology,” he argued.
Despite losing its territorial control, the Islamic State's ideology still exists and thousands of its members and sympathizers still live in Iraq, Syria and the region, Barzani pointed out.
“To defeat ISIS, military operations are not enough. You have to look at the root causes that led to the rise of extremism and terrorism, which is poverty, failure to find a political consensus, lack of economic opportunities and prosperity, and injustice. To eradicate terrorism, first, you have to address those issues,” Barzani affirmed.
In regards to the recent nationwide protests in central and southern Iraq, Barzani reiterated his support to the people and their legitimate demands. “The people deserve proper governance, equal opportunities, and all the services a regular citizen should have.”
He cautioned, however, that “there is a difference between what the Iraqi people want and the agendas of the political parties.”
“There is a united view that something is wrong, but they all disagree on what the solution should be,” said Barzani, adding that Iraq still has not reached a consensus as to what could and should be a response to the current crisis facing the government and Iraq.
“We sympathize and feel for the people, and the government should take immediate actions to satisfy the needs of the people as it is not enough to just talk about these issues,” he stated. The current government, notably Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Madhi, are “not the only administration responsible for what is happening in Iraq,” Barzani noted, “as these problems are a culmination the last fifteen years” of mismanagement and failure to fully implement the constitution of Iraq.
Editing by Nadia Riva