If Syria crisis escalates, Kurdistan Region may see new wave of refugees: JCC Director-General

"If the situation in Syria escalates and becomes more volatile, then there is a possibility the Kurdistan Region may see a new influx of refugees."

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – If the situation in Syria escalates and becomes more volatile, then there is a possibility the Kurdistan Region may see a new influx of refugees, an official from the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Joint Crisis Coordination Centre (JCC) said on Thursday.

Hoshang Mohamed, the Director-General of the JCC, told Kurdistan 24 that a humanitarian crisis in Syria may cause thousands of people to flee to the Kurdistan Region again, especially after the United States announced it was withdrawing its troops from Syria.

“If the situation becomes further volatile, and conflict spreads again to the populated areas, especially the Kurdish areas, there is concern of a humanitarian crisis which will result in new waves of refugees to Kurdistan,” Mohamed said.

“We hope this will not happen, and civilians do not become targets.”

In a surprise announcement on Wednesday, the White House said it was withdrawing American forces from Syria east of the Euphrates.

The US has approximately 2,000 troops in Syria where they have been backing the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the fight against the so-called Islamic State (IS).

In recent weeks, Turkey has threatened to attack areas east of the Euphrates where the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), who make up a bulk of the SDF, are stationed. Ankara considers the YPG a terrorist group for its alleged ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The only thing that seemed to stop Turkey was America’s presence.

Moreover, the US decision to withdraw its forces affects others in the region, not only the Kurds in Syria. For the Kurdistan Region, it raises the possibility of renewed instability on its western border.

The KRG is currently providing shelter and basic needs to nearly two million Syrian refugees and displaced Iraqis who fled to Kurdistan following IS’ emergence in mid-2014.

According to a statement from the International Rescue Committee (IRC) on Thursday, “hundreds of thousands of people could flee their homes and lose access to vital aid and health care if military offensives in northeast Syria begin.”

In the statement, IRC’s Middle East Regional Director Mark Schnellbaecher called on the major powers involved in Syria “to consider the humanitarian consequences of all planning decisions.”

Meanwhile, some civilians in northeast Syria say they may be forced to flee their homes and seek refuge in the Kurdistan Region if the conflict escalates.  

“[Fleeing the conflict] is something I am thinking about. Hopefully, this will not happen. God forbid!” Azad, a 30-year-old Kurd from Derbisiye town in Hasaka, told Kurdistan 24.

Another civilian from Kobani who asked to remain anonymous said he would first flee east toward Qamishlo than to the Kurdistan Region “if real conflict breaks out.”

(Additional reporting by Wladimir van Wilgenburg)