As the harsh winter cold sets in, almost half a million Iraqi internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kirkuk after fleeing the Islamic State (IS) group are facing increasingly difficult conditions, the international pro-democracy association the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) has said.
According to UNPO, the Kurdish authorities in Kirkuk have yet to receive financial support from the central Iraqi government to assist the growing numbers of IDPs in the city.
Some two million refugees and IDPs have fled to northern Iraq from Islamic State gunmen. The region saw a massive influx of IDPs in June when thousands of Iraqis fled Mosul after Islamic State militants attacked and took control of Iraq's second-largest city.
In December, the medical NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the only international group providing aid in Kirkuk, warned that thousands of displaced Iraqis are in "desperate need of food, water, shelter and medical care."
Most of the IDPs in Kirkuk are living in overcrowded shelters and are suffering from a variety of illnesses in part because of a lack of food and water. The ailments IDPs are suffering from include urinary and chest infections, skin complaints, and anemia.
Kurdish outlet Rudaw reported on January 6 that officials in Kirkuk are warning that conditions for internal refugees in the city are deteriorating.
While MSF has called for increased assistance from international aid agencies, saying that most aid was coming from local groups and was not sufficient, local authorities say the Iraqi central government is not doing nearly enough to help IDPs.
Officials in Kirkuk told Rudaw that the governors of Mosul, Salahaddin and Diyala have yet to make good on a pledge to transfer some of their budgets to Kirkuk to assist Iraqis who had fled from their areas.
"The central government is negligent about this," the mayor of Kirkuk, Kamil Salayi, told Rudaw.
Salayi said that the situation for the IDPs is "dire."
On January 8, the governor of Kirkuk, Najmaldin Karim, slammed officials who he said were living in "five-star accommodation" and called on them to donate one month's salary to help refugees. Karim said Kirkuk had absorbed around 100,000 displaced families from cities in the Nineveh, Diyala, Anbar and Salahaddin provinces.
Like Kirkuk Mayor Salayi, the new Kurdish representative in Washington, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, also used the word "dire" to describe the situation for IDPs who came to northern Iraq to escape Islamic State violence elsewhere in the country.
"The refugee camps become lakes of mud when there's rain. Your heart breaks for the people who have to live like that," she told Voice of America in Washington on January 7.
Abdul Rahman said that the Kurds were seeking more humanitarian aid from the United States to help them cope with the influx of IDPs.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk