Problem of Kurdish Refugees
How it works
At the start of the relief efforts coalition forces took over and began moving the Kurds back to Northern Iraq and refugee camps were developed. Although, the coalition forces began the efforts both they and the Iraqis wanted the United Nations to swiftly take over the remaining relief effort operations. The coalition forces, mainly composed of the United States, did not want to recommit to another potential war crisis nor did they want to sour their relationship with Turkey, therefore their help was not pledged long term.
Moreover, the Iraqi government did not wish to have armed coalition forces within their borders that could be a potential threat to their rule. In order for the Iraqi government to achieve this they cooperated with the United Nations a signed a Memorandum of Understanding that settled the terms for the humanitarian operation that would enable the displaced to return to Northern Iraq. The United Nations wanted the UNHCR to take over operation of returning the refugees, however they feared that the Kurds would not be safe without the protection of the coalition forces.
Due to the coalition forces desire for a quick exit they began informing the refugee population that it was safe for them to go back and as they began to move back the UNHCR had no choice but to follow them. The military forces and UNHCR worked together hand in hand and in the first few weeks they helped return over 200,000 Kurdish refugees to Northern Iraq.
This particular refugee crisis would set the precedent for humanitarian crisis relief negotiations for both military personnel and international relief agencies. The UNHCR allotted funds that helped the refugees rebuild their homes and attempt to rebuild their community. As the refugees continued to resettle and the immediate crisis had subsided the UNHCR handed over operations to other branches within the United Nations to help continue the resettlement efforts.
Although repatriation was the option chosen for the Kurdish refugees there could have been other options for resettlement in host countries as well. One solution would have been for the international agencies to put politics aside and put pressure on Turkey to allow the refugees to cross the border. Had the western states found a way to bargain with Turkey then perhaps they would have allowed the refugees in while still maintaining a positive relationship with the states that allowed them continued use of their air bases.
There was a severe lack of communication between Turkey and the international agencies during the beginning stages of the crisis, which resulted in the Kurdish refugees being stranded in severe weather on top of icy mountains in the border region. Had Turkey and the international agencies communicated early on and created a plan that appeased both parties it is likely that thousands of Kurdish refugees would not have lost their lives on those mountains.
Furthermore, another solution could have been relocating the refugees to Iran with the rest of the Kurdish refugee population there. The funds that were allocated to repatriation in Northern Iraq could have been given to the relief effort in Iran, which would have given them the ability to host more refugees and resettle them. The failure of the international agencies to devise a feasible solution quickly ultimately cost many refugees their lives.
In conclusion, the UNHCR and other international agencies chose repatriation of the Kurdish refugees to Northern Iraq. The safe haven created there is considered to be successful since it allowed so many refugees to return home, however the refugees did face economic turmoil, government incursions, and military violence. Though the refugees faced hardship after their return they continued to resettle and rebuild. Over time the Kurds did see improvement in their community in the areas of economics and security.
In present day the Kurdish population has expanded to parts of Turkey, Northern Iraq, Syria, and Iran, it is formally known as Kurdistan and is recognized by the Iraqi government as a separate government entity within the borders of Iraq. Although, the Kurdish people continue to seek full autonomy the population has made several strides in maintaining its independence since the Iraqi-Kurdish refugee crisis of the 1990’s.