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Kurdish Province Struggles To Cope With Waves Of Iraqi Refugees


When Iraqis have fled the advance of ISIS, a common destination for them has been the province of Duhok. Duhok is prominently Kurdish and Farhad Atrushi is the governor there. He joined us from the city of Duhok, where he says there aren't enough resources to care for the influx of displaced persons.

GOVERNOR FARHAD ATRUSHI: Of course there is not because in the city center and surrounding towns it's almost 500,000 people. Suddenly, within two weeks, I have received 400,000 people from the surrounding area and from Sinjar. And I think nobody can do that - neither the United States, neither the international community - to provide shelter, food, security, water, everything for these people because it's something very big. And to be honest with you, the U.N. has failed because a massive emergency in Duhok and they have to move.

SIEGEL: One party you didn't mention at all in that was Baghdad - was the central government of Iraq. Has it been of any assistance, whatever, in dealing with this problem in Duhok?

ATRUSHI: Baghdad, as usual - they are busy with crisis, with disagreements, with political problems between themselves, the Shia, and the other side, the Sunnis. They haven't done anything yet - the Iraqi government in this crisis, which is a humanitarian crisis, in Sinjar and in general.

SIEGEL: What do people in Duhok hear from the Yazidis who've made it there? Do they hear that - from people who hope to return to their homes in or around Sinjar?

ATRUSHI: They have the desire to go back - most of them. But there are many young men that said we are not going back anymore because they have taken our daughters, our women, and now they are raped by these terrorist groups in Mosul and in Syria. Most of them, they said we cannot go back because of issue of honor and other things...

SIEGEL: You're saying these are people - these are men who would regard the rape of their own women as a dishonor and they would find it difficult to go back and live with their own - with their own wives?

ATRUSHI: This is one reason. The other reason - if you look at the map, Sinjar is in a very critical geographic location, which is surrounding by the Arab villages and towns. And, of course, we can't give them a security guarantee because there are tens of miles we have to control it by forces, by Peshmerga, there are other things. The only way we can give them guarantee is through the international community to have peacekeepers in that area or through a mandate from the United Nations and Security Council to do something for these people.

SIEGEL: Just to understand, you've been very critical of the U.N. representatives there, and we're talking about food and medicine and temporary shelter. Is that what you're asking for?

ATRUSHI: Exactly. I'm receiving hundreds of thousands of people who I have no vaccinations, I have no medicines, I have no proper health infrastructure in Duhok for such a big number. I will give you one small example. I have some bakeries in my city, in my towns in Duhok province. There are enough for 500,000 people less or more. Now they are working 24 hours and I have contracted with them - I'm paying them money to bake for me bread and prepare for me bread, but they cannot reach because it's a big number. They have to bake for the original citizen of Duhok province and for hundreds of thousands of people. So I have to buy it from Turkey now because I'm borrowing with Turkey, and sometimes I'm borrowing and buying from Erbil, which is the capital of Kurdistan region.

This city cannot afford all this, and we are not the only place responsible for these humanitarian catastrophe and humanitarian crisis which is happening. It's the duty of Iraqi government, of KRG, of course, and of international community - especially the United Nations - has to move very fast and they have to do something about this international crisis.

SIEGEL: The KRG - the Kurdish Regional Government - the KRG.

ATRUSHI: Exactly, exactly.

SIEGEL: Governor Atrushi, thank you very much for talking with us today and good luck with things.

ATRUSHI: Thank you very much for having me.

SIEGEL: Farhad Atrushi is the governor of the province of the governorate, as they actually say there, of Duhok, which is where many of the refugees from Sinjar and other locations in northern Iraq have fled. It's part of the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.