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Crisis in Iraqi Kurdistan: first impacts for NGOs

Ⓒ AFP – SAFIN HAMED – | Iraqi Kurds demonstrate on 29 September 2017 at Erbil airport after the decision by the central government of Baghdad to suspend international flights to Iraqi Kurdistan

Non-governmental organizations suffer in Iraq the first impacts of the crisis on the referendum on independence in Kurdistan, in a humanitarian context already tense since the fall of Mosul.

On Friday afternoon, the last foreign planes left the airports of Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan (north), and Souleimaniyeh. Baghdad imposed an air blockade to force this autonomous region to cancel its popular consultation, which plebiscite independence.

Ⓒ AFP – Gillian HANDYSIDE – | Iraqi Kurdistan: a regional air hub

If the ban does not apply to humanitarian, military and diplomatic flights, according to Erbil airport management, international NGO staff who are taking commercial flights to the area are seriously affected.

“We can not bring them in or out anymore,” said Malika Saïm, a head of Médecins sans frontières (MSF) -France for northern Iraq, interviewed by AFP. It is also “difficult to take humanitarian flights between Baghdad and Erbil,” she adds.

More seriously, “with the air blockade, our freight, which arrived in Erbil and not in Baghdad, was canceled Friday,” regrets Mrs. Saïm, which creates problems of supplying “drugs, equipment, logistical equipment”.

On the ground, Action Against Hunger (ACF) found “a very clear tension at the checkpoints”, with “insults” against the Kurdish civilians “but also against the humanitarian staff” uttered by the Iraqi army and certain militias , reports its deputy director for the Middle East, Eric de Guerpel.

ACF, like most humanitarian organizations, had taken Kurdistan as a logistics base for its activities in northern Iraq. “When one sees the difficulty of joining our programs in Mosul from Kurdistan before the referendum, we wonder how it will be afterwards,” he worries.

For two or three days, Médecins du Monde (MDM) has decided to cancel the movements of its teams between Kurdistan and the Mosul region, explains Marius Musca, its head of emergency operations.

– ‘Acute’ needs –

“We anticipated problems at the checkpoints and we did not move,” Musca said. MDM clinics remained open, “but not at the maximum level”, rather at “60-70%”, he details.

The humanitarian need is “acute”, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which counts 700,000 internally displaced people among Mosul residents, released in July after eight months of fighting.

Tens of thousands more are still being affected by military operations against the Islamic state jihadist group, the UN added, whose humanitarian coordinator Lisa Grande described August Mosul as “the biggest challenge” of stabilization (reconstruction of infrastructure, housing, education system, police) to which the organization “has never faced”.

Ocha now calls on “all parties to assume their responsibilities and ensure unhindered humanitarian access to those in need.”

Ⓒ AFP – SAFIN HAMED – | Iraqi Kurds demonstrate on 29 September 2017 at Erbil airport after the decision by the central government of Baghdad to suspend international flights to Iraqi Kurdistan

“MSF’s Malika Saïm, who sets the” critical threshold “of this crisis at” two weeks “before she is able to do so, affects the proper functioning of its structure.

Doctors of the world said to have a “buffer stock” allowing him to provide his services during “three months without problem”. “But if we go beyond this period, there will be consequences” on the activity of the NGO, and ultimately for the population, warns Marius Musca.

Ⓒ AFP – Gillian HANDYSIDE – | Kurdistan: suspended air traffic

Thomas Hugonnier, in charge of the Iraq program for Handicap International, prefers, he, “to guard against any prognosis”. “There is undoubtedly a risk, but for the time being, this is not confirmed,” he relativizes, his organization still working “without problem” in the zone.

“This blockade is a blow of bluff without tomorrow of Baghdad”, judges another humanitarian actor, under cover of anonymity. “Administrative constraints, we find them in all the countries where we intervene and we lived the crisis of Mosul without too many problems,” he said, adding: “it is much more complicated in the South- Sudan, the Central African Republic or Yemen. ”

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