Iraq: thousands fleeing ISIS and expected government air strikes blocked by Kurdish authorities

People stranded at a checkpoint at Kalak in northern Iraq © Amnesty International
'Thousands of frightened civilians have left their homes and their lives behind only to find themselves stranded on the streets’ - Donatella Rovera
Thousands of exhausted Iraqi civilians fleeing the conflict in north-west Iraq are stranded at checkpoints separating the autonomous Kurdish provinces controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the rest of Iraq, said Amnesty International today.   
Almost all the families interviewed by Amnesty’s research team in Iraq today and last night are Shia Turkmen who fled Tal ‘Afar when fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) captured the city two weeks ago. They have since been sheltering in the Sinjar area, further west towards the Iraq-Syria border, but do not feel safe there as ISIS recently took control of parts of the border area. 
One man - a father of eight who had driven nearly seven hours from Sinjar, taking a long detour to avoid Mosul and his home town of Tal ‘Afar which are now under ISIS control - told Amnesty: “We do not want to stay in Kurdistan; we just want to pass through to get to the road southbound to Baghdad and on to Najaf in the south.”
Sunni Muslims have also been fleeing areas under ISIS control (Mosul, Tal ‘Afar and surrounding areas) in large numbers for fear of government airstrikes. Many of these have similarly been facing increasing difficulties in trying to enter KRG areas, and some have simply given up and returned home where they are now living in fear. 
Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser who is currently in northern Iraq, said: 
“Thousands of frightened civilians have left their homes and their lives behind only to find themselves stranded on the streets. 
“The Kurdish regional authorities have an obligation to allow Iraqi civilians seeking to flee the fighting to enter or transit through KRG areas.” 
An estimated one million people have been displaced in Iraq since January. According to the International Organisation of Migration there were 10,000 internally-displaced people within the Sinjar district as of 25 June.

Yezidi minority kidnapping and Sunni detainees killed

Amnesty has recently reported on other human rights abuses in the ongoing conflict in northern Iraq, including the kidnapping of Yezidi minority members from the northern Iraq / Syria border, and the mass killings of Sunni detainees by Iraqi government forces and allied Shia militia groups.

View latest press releases