The massive influx of refugees to the tiny town of Khanke in northeast Iraq is quickly making it one of the country’s fastest growing regions, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Over 70,000 Iraqi refugees, displaced by the ISIS offensive, have settled in Khanke in the past six weeks, yet the current infrastructure is incapable of supporting this recent population boom, and local officials know it.
“The government of Kurdistan can’t afford to help them all,” Hussein Jassim, a Khanke police officer, told the Journal. “They are everywhere.”
Kurdistan’s rocky relationship with Baghdad further exacerbates the situation; the region’s semi-autonomous nature makes coordinating relief efforts with the central government exceedingly difficult.
While the provincial government has placed most refugees in camps, the sheer numbers are now encroaching on the existing population’s resources. Humanitarian aide groups, like UNICEF, are housing refugees in commercial and residential buildings. Even the start of the new school year has been delayed, due to refugees being housed in local elementary schools.
Khanke is not the only town in the region suffering from an influx of refugees; of the 1.8 million Iraqis displaced by ISIS, over half a million have settled in Dohuk province.
“We are overwhelmed,” commented the Dohuk UNICEF chief, Natasha Stojkovska. “I don’t know where these people can stay.”
The Dohuk refuge crisis was a major catalyst for President Obama’s airstrike campaign against ISIS. However, refugees don’t hold much confidence that the US strategy will be sufficient in stopping the terrorist group.
According to one of Khanke’s newest refugees, Salah Risho, “We need American forces on the ground. American airstrikes allowed us to escape, but not to go home.”