Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz travels to northern Iraq

Assistance on the ground, especially for resettlement projects, as contribution to managing the refugee crisis

From 15 to 16 July 2016, Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz travelled to northern Iraq. “The humanitarian crisis, which has been exacerbated by the presence of the terrorist organisation ISIL/Da’esh, remains acute. This conflict is one of the key reasons for the massive refugee movements towards Europe. The humanitarian aid and assistance we provide on the ground therefore not only contributes towards supporting the civilian population in need but also makes an important contribution towards managing the refugee crisis”, Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz pointed out.

The situation in Iraq is tense. According to economist.com the number of victims of terrorist attacks is three times as high as in any other country. Between 2003 and 2015 there were some 18,600 attacks involving more than 50,000 fatalities. In addition, the humanitarian situation on the ground remains tense. On top of the 3.4 million internally displaced persons in Iraq, of which 950,000 come from the Kurdistan Region - Iraq, there are another 250,000 registered Syrian refugees and 744,000 returnees to Iraq. According to the United Nations ten million people, equalling one third of the population, depend on humanitarian aid. Against the background of the economic slump, the low oil price, the strained relationship between Bagdad and Erbil and the fight against ISIL/Da’esh, the Kurdish Region in the north-east of Iraq is in a particularly difficult situation.

“The tense situation in Iraq also impacts the refugee crisis. Since January alone, a total of 1,809 applications for asylum in Austria have been filed by Iraqis, making them the fourth largest group of asylum applicants in 2016 ranked by countries of origin. Since the outbreak of the conflict in Syria in 2012, support provided by Austria to the region, i.e. Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey, Greece and Armenia, has totalled 42 million euros. In view of the continuing dramatic situation in Iraq, Austria will continue to support the humanitarian efforts launched by the international community by providing 1.5 million euros from the Foreign Disaster Relief Fund with a view to ensuring stabilisation of the crisis region as well as resettlement of returning refugees and internally displaced persons”, Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz underlined.

In his talks with Falah Mustafa, Head of the Department of Foreign Relations at the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq and the subsequent press conference, as well as in his meeting with representatives of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz discussed the humanitarian situation. In the evening of the first day of his visit Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz met representatives from the Kurdistan Regional Government, including the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq, Nechirvan Barzani, Minister of Planning Ali Sindi, Minister of the Interior Karim Sinjari and the Head of the Department of Foreign Relations Falah Mustafa.

 On the second day of his trip, Foreign Minister Kurz used the opportunity to gain a personal impression of the use of funds on the ground.

Barbara Rijks, Head of IOM Erbil and Mr. Raszgar Abed, Head of the Debaga camp for internally displaced persons shared first-hand information with Foreign Minister Kurz on the services provided in the camp and on the medical situation. The focus of the activities and stabilisation programmes launched by IOM on the ground is on the comprehensive collection of statistical data, creation of job and income opportunities for particularly vulnerable internally displaced persons, returnees and local communities.

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