Struan gave the following speech in Strasbourg on Wednesday 9 October.
The Syrian conflict raging on the borders of Iraq has poured petrol on the flames of the growing insurgency that has claimed the lives of 5,000 people so far this year. In Iraqi Kurdistan, one of the few former havens of peace in the country, Al Qaeda terrorists have infiltrated genuine groups of refugees fleeing to safety, setting off a series of bombs in the Kurdish capital Erbil some days ago that killed 6 people and injured dozens, the first terrorist attack in the city in 6 years.
After being closed for three months, the Peshkhabour crossing between Syria and Iraq reopened on 15 August, allowing tens of thousands of fleeing Syrians who had been stuck on the border, finally to reach safety. It is estimated that 20,000 more are crossing into Northern Iraq every week.
Kurdistan is now swarming with refugees, not only from Syria, but also from the rest of Iraq, where ethnic minorities are daily targeted with violence, arbitrary arrest, torture, harassment, intimidation, displacement, political disenfranchisement and social and economic marginalisation.
According to the UN, life for the Syrian refugees and all of the other ethnic groups who sought refuge in Kurdistan is extremely difficult. Kurdistan received an estimated 9% of the Syrian refugees, but only 6% of international funding. There are now 195,000 Syrian refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan, many living in tents with no access to running water or electricity. The Kurds are doing everything they can to help these people, but they have little food or other resources and the winter will arrive soon.
There is no point in pouring aid for Syrian refugees into the coffers of the venally corrupt and murderous regime of Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad. Little or none of such aid will ever reach Kurdistan. The aid must be directed to the Kurdistan Regional Government, where it is needed and it must be sent quickly or we will face a human catastrophe.
Indeed, because of the dire situation, more and more Syrian refugees are choosing to leave the relative safety of Northern Iraq, instead risking their lives to return home to a war zone in Syria.
We must step in now to help these people.
STRUAN STEVENSON, MEP
President of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq