The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today that up to 10,000 people from predominately Christian communities in northern Iraq have fled their homes this week amid the ongoing violence in Mosul.
Those fleeing are from Qaraqosh – also known as Hamdaniya – a town of 50,000 people that is located 30 kilometres south-east of Mosul, where armed opposition groups seized control two weeks ago.
UNHCR said many of them have fled to Iraq’s Kurdistan region, which is already hosting an estimated 300,000 people from Mosul and the surrounding areas.
“They fled by bus, car and taxi into Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region on Wednesday night,” UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming told reporters in Geneva.
“Many are women and children staying with families, relatives and in schools and community centres, mostly in Erbil. They tell us they fled in a big rush, and didn't bring many belongings with them so that is a sign of how afraid they are.”
Asked if Christians who were fleeing the fighting had been directly targeted because of their religion, Ms. Fleming replied that people said they were fleeing pre-emptively in the latest displacement.
“Certainly there is a widespread fear among the Christian community in this area. But, in this particular case, there was no specific targeting but rather pre-emptive flight for fear what would happen next,” she stated.
UNHCR and its partners have distributed tents, mattresses and hygiene kits at schools and community centres in Erbil where the displaced families are currently sheltering.
Together with the Kurdish authorities and other humanitarian partners, UNHCR has helped to expand the Garmawa camp in Dohuk where more than 1,000 displaced people are now staying. More camps are being constructed in Kurdistan to accommodate the growing number of internally displaced families.
So far this year, an estimated 1.2 million Iraqis have been displaced by fighting, including from Anbar and Ninewa governorates, according to UNHCR.