While there are several hundred thousand internally displaced persons (IDPs) in northern Iraq, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) maintains that the situation has yet to reach crisis point.
"For the time being, we don't think that there is a major crisis," an ICRC spokesman, Florian Westphal, told IRIN from Geneva on Monday. "The majority of those displaced left before the conflict, leaving the cities for the villages relatively well prepared."
Westphal's comments follow the release on Friday of a report by the UN Office of the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq (UNOCHI) noting IDP movements in the north - involving numbers ranging from 300,000 to 450,000. The report said the IDPs had fled from Kirkuk to Arbil and Sulaymaniyah, while the movement of the population of Arbil city toward Shaqlawa and Soran was increasing. Moreover, numbers of people had also left Sulaymaniyah and Dahuk cities over the past few days.
"The largest population movements are in the Dahuk area, where an estimated 85 percent of the city [population 120,000] has moved to villages east of the city," the report said.It was estimated that 90 percent of the IDPs were staying with relatives and were not in need of immediate assistance, the report said.
The ICRC spokesman described the figures as "rough", based on what the authorities were reporting in terms of how much the population had been reduced. "However, what people on the ground are telling us is that over the last few days some of these people may have actually started returning home," he added.
While confirming there were perhaps several thousand IDPs who were actually vulnerable, Westphal noted that the ICRC was carefully monitoring the situation. "These are people that have often come from government-controlled areas to Kurdish-controlled areas. We have assisted about 1,000 over the weekend,primarily through non-food related items, and we are certainly keeping an eye on that situation," he explained.
"Most of these people left their homes before the conflict started and are not necessarily vulnerable," Westphal said, noting, however, that it was too early to predict what could happen in the near future. "This could well change," he warned.
According to the UNOCHI report, local authorities and UN national staff were attempting to meet immediate needs, and there were serious concerns for the health of those who were not adequately sheltered. Local authorities requested the UN and NGOs to support the preparation of six camps in Sulaymaniyah and four reception points in Dahuk. Within two to three weeks, the UN Office for Project Services will receive non-food items sufficient to cover the needs of 15,000 IDPs for two weeks, and public buildings have also been adapted to house IDPs on a temporary basis.
Meanwhile, many people crossing checkpoints were refusing to be registered, while weather conditions worsened, thus affecting IDP conditions and hampering camp preparation activities, the report added.