The deteriorating situation in Mosul and other areas of northern Iraq has forced half a million people from their homes in recent days, adding to a record number of refugees whose lives were uprooted by violence over the past year.
The U.N. refugee agency said on Friday that more than 51 million people were forcibly displaced in 2013, the largest number since the end of World War II. Half of the refugees were children.
The increase has been driven primarily by refugees from the ongoing war in Syria, but the growing crisis in Iraq now is pushing the grim toll even higher, U.N. officials said.
The half a million refugees who are fleeing into Kurdistan from Mosul and other northern cities following a takeover by the radical militant group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, join another half a million Iraqis who already had been displaced by fighting in Anbar province earlier this year.
U.N. agencies and their partners are setting up tents in Irbil, Dohuk and Suleimaniya in Kurdistan “to accommodate the growing influx of displaced families,” said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the U.N. Secretary General.
“Many need water and sanitation support, immunization against polio and measles, and protection services,” he said. “The agency has also warned that increasing risks of ethnic violence and the threat to Baghdad ... can make the situation worse as the scale of needs and complexity to the crisis grows.”
Cargo planes carrying emergency supplies_including tents, blankets and schools-in-a-box_arrived in Irbil this week, Dujarric said, and the World Food Programme has started emergency food distribution to 43,500 of the most vulnerable refugees.
UNICEF and the WHO are coordinating with Kurdish health authorities to carry out a mass vaccination campaign to halt the spread of polio and other diseases among displaced children, he said.