In an interview, Emmanuel Gignac, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' coordinator for the Kurdistan Region, told NIQASH, despite criticisms, that refugees here are living in better conditions than elsewhere. He also says that while the local authorities – both in Iraqi Kurdistan and in Baghdad – have been very helpful, they could do with a little more organisation.
NIQASH: Can you tell us how many refugees are now in Iraqi Kurdistan, who originally came from outside of Iraq?
Emmanuel Gignac: According to the latest UNHCR statistics, there are more than 210,000 Syrian refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan. Most of them are also Kurds. That number is now increasing due to current conditions in the Syrian city of Kobani.
NIQASH: How has the UNHCR prepared for this?
Gignac: We have secured supplies and we have plans to set up many other camps in Iraqi Kurdistan. We have provided refugees with tents, food and water and then other UN organisations provide them with food supplies and help with their health and education needs.
However if numbers continue to increase we will have to seek more support from donor countries to help those people – because it is hard to receive this large a number of refugees, all at the same time.
NIQASH: And what about the Iraqis who are also displaced and flooding into Iraqi Kurdistan?
Gignac: The issue of displaced Iraqis from the provinces of Ninawa and Anbar is actually an issue that should be being dealt with by the Iraqi government and the government of Iraqi Kurdistan. However we have provided many of them what what we could. There are around 350,000 people who have benefitted from UNHCR assistance and we are also planning to set up ten new camps – four in Dohuk, three in Sulaymaniyah and three in Erbil.
NIQASH: Some have been saying that conditions for refugees here in Iraqi Kurdistan are bad. Of course, local officials say this isn't true. But what is your opinion?
Gignac: The lives of the displaced and of refugees cannot be compared to normal life. However the conditions in which people are living here are better than conditions in other areas. There is a shortage of some needed supplies, that's true. But there is nobody here going hungry and there has been no outbreak of dangerous diseases. That's important. Having said that, the influx of such huge numbers of people to one particular area creates a difficult situation. There is no doubt there are many problems but we are trying to resolve them.
NIQASH: And what is your opinion on the kind of aid offered by the authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan and the government in Baghdad? Are they doing enough?
Gignac: The two governments have helped. The government of Baghdad allocated IQD35 billion to set up six camps in Dohuk and they also allocated a certain amount of money for each displaced family. But we have noticed that things are not particularly well organized and could be better coordinated. We also know that Iraqi Kurdistan is experiencing a financial crisis, because of the delay in the payment of salaries of civil servants and other government employees. Despite this though, it's done a lot of positive things for refugees and displaced people here.
*This interview was originally conducted with the aid of a Kurdish translator, then translated into English and Arabic.