Iraqi Kurdistan is not presently considering at closing its border with Syria given the continuous flow of refugees, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Representative to the United States Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman stated.
When asked whether there are any talks about closing the border with Syria, Rahman said, “Not at the moment”.
Rahman noted that the KRG has never closed the border to refugees.
“Even when we were being flooded with refugees and displaced people, we kept the border open”, she said.
Rahman said earlier that Iraqi Kurdistan received 16,700 Syrian refugees after Turkey’s military operation in northeast Syria, but refugees continue to arrive daily albeit at lower numbers.
“A month ago, we were receiving 1,000 people per day. Now the numbers are more like 200, 150 per day”, Rahman said. “The numbers every day have slowed down. But as I said, we don’t know how many will come in the end, because it depends on how much violence there is”.
Rahman said the KRG is very concerned about the militants present in the border region given that the movement of refugees depends on the level of violence.
When asked whether they have any concerns that the Daesh* terrorists may be among the Syrian refugees, Rahman stated, “Of course”.
“With any wave of refugees – the refugees are always fleeing a conflict, whichever part of the world – and quite often there’re fleeing criminal elements or in a case of some people there were fleeing ISIS [IS]* terrorists”, she said. “In Syria there are ISIS terrorists, there’s al-Qaeda, there’re all these other militias that are just as bad as ISIS. So, we are very careful about the refugees that are coming over, to vet them, and to see who is among them”.
“We have to do that because we have to protect the other refugees who came before them. And we have to protect the refugees who are coming -they’re fleeing conflict”, Rahman continued. “And of course, we owe it to our own community, our own population, to make sure that we protect them. And that’s a very big risk”.
Asked who carries out the vetting process, Rahman noted, “I’m not an expert on this. My understanding is that it’s both our authorities, but also the UN, because they also have a lot of experience”.
Iraqi Kurdistan Needs International Assistance to Cope With Syrian Refugees
“Without real serious high-level international assistance, I don’t see how the Kurdistan region, by itself, can manage with another flood of refugees”, Rahman said.
Rahman noted that they are in discussions with the foreign governments on the matter.
“We talk to everyone – every country where we have representation”, she said. “We talk to those governments about providing us with assistance. Also, I think close to 40 countries have consulates and diplomatic missions in Erbil, and I know that our colleagues there are also talking to them”.
Earlier, Rahman stated that over the past month Iraqi Kurdistan has accepted 16,700 Syrian refugees due to the Turkish military operation in the north. She also noted that the refugees, although in smaller numbers, continue to come every day.
On 9 October, Turkey launched Operation Peace Spring in northeastern Syria to clear the area of Kurdish militants and the Daesh terror group, as well as to create a safe zone for the relocation of Syrian refugees residing in Turkey.
Just over a week later, the United States and Turkey agreed to a 120-hour ceasefire in the area to allow the withdrawal of the Kurdish fighters.
As the ceasefire came to an end, Turkey and Russia signed a 22 October memorandum in Sochi stipulating that, within 150 hours, the Kurdish militants would be withdrawn to a distance of 30 kilometres from Syria’s border with Turkey.
On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the Kurdish forces’ withdrawal from Syria’s north had been nearly completed, and only some minor presence was still possible.
Up to 20,000 Daesh Fighters Remain in Iraq, Syria
“We estimate that between Iraq and Syria, there are 15 to 20,000 ISIS [IS] fighters. And this is why we believe that we all need to be very vigilant about fighting off ISIS, not allowing it to regroup properly”, Bayan said. “It’s trying very hard all the time to regroup. But also, we need to be careful that… we develop a narrative that goes counter to this terrorist narrative. I mean countries all over the world have suffered from al-Qaeda, ISIS, and those terrorist, extremist narratives, and we need to find some way of fighting it back ideologically”.
Daesh had seized huge swaths of land in Syria and Iraq in 2014 and created the so-called Islamic caliphate on the territories under its control. The Daesh terrorist group has also claimed responsibility for a number of terror attacks across the world.
Iraq announced the defeat of Daesh in late 2017, three years after it overran much of the country. By March 2019, Iraqi forces, backed by US-led coalition airstrikes, recaptured all the territories occupied by the terrorist group in Iraq. However, Daesh continues to stage sporadic attacks.