GENEVA (AA) – The armed conflict between the Islamic State (IS), formerly known as ISIL, and the Kurdish Peshmerga forces has pushed the confirmed number of internally displaced Iraqis nationwide to over one million as of Thursday, according to the International Organization for Migration.
This includes the latest numbers from the town of Sinjar, which was on Sunday captured by armed groups linked to the Islamic State along with Rabia in the province of Nineveh, forcing thousands of Iraqis — including Turkmen, Arabs and Ezidis — to flee.
“This is the highest number of internally displaced people in Iraq since the Islamic State advance began in January 2014″, International Organization for Migration spokesperson Chris Lom told a press briefing in Geneva Friday.
176,150 families (an estimated 1,056,900 individuals) in 1,381 locations throughout Iraq have been displaced since January 2014, Lom said citing figures issued by the organization’s Rapid Response and Assessment Teams.
More than 54% or 94,597 families (some 567,582 individuals) became displaced after June 2014, Lom said.
“Many of the families who fled violence in Nineveh’s Sinjar region in recent weeks are in urgent need of water, food and shelter,” said Elisabeth Brys, spokesperson for UN World Food Programme (WFP).
“Most of WFP food distributions for displaced families have taken place in three governorates in Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) area – Erbil, Dohuk and Sulaymaniyah – where most of the needs are,” Brys said.
The UN organization is looking to establish new transport corridors to bring food into Iraq including a southern corridor through Kuwait, Brys noted, adding that World Food Programme is rapidly expanding its presence on the ground in Iraq, with a plan to reach a potential 1.2 million people displaced by the conflict by early 2015.
“We are gravely concerned for the physical safety and the humanitarian situation of the large number of civilians trapped in areas under the control of the Islamic State or in areas affected by the violence”, Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said, adding that the situation of vulnerable minority groups is alarming, including the Ezidi, Christian and Turkmen communities.
“Widespread or systematic attacks directed against any civilian populations because of their ethnic background, religion or belief may constitute a crime against humanity,” Laerke said.
Part of Ezidis, a minority group, have recently become the targets of Islamic State militants who regard them as ‘devil-worshippers,’
The violence in Iraq escalated in early June after a coalition of armed groups linked to the Islamic State took control of large swathes of the country’s predominantly Sunni provinces.
The conflict between the army and militants entered a new stage in July when insurgents captured a number of key cities and towns in Iraq.
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