Cash-strapped aid agencies are scrambling to respond to an escalating humanitarian crisis after Islamist militants seized control of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, forcing an estimated half a million people to flee towards the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan in the space of days.

Humanitarian actors, who are already supporting some 220,000 Syrian refugees in Kurdistan, have been warning for months that the violence could spread from Anbar, and that their funding was running dangerously low.

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said it had received varying accounts about how many people have been displaced from Mosul and other violence-hit areas in the last week, but the International Organization for Migration estimated as many as 500,000 had been displaced in just a few days.

Short of funds

In an 11 June report UNAMI noted: “Most of the UN agencies do not have funds to continue to provide life-saving humanitarian assistance,” and called on donors to “provide the necessary funding”.

“Our financial resources have already been spread very thin because of the whole situation in Anbar, and our ongoing support to Syrian Refugees,” Michael Bates, Iraq country director for the Danish Refugee Council, said.

“For some time we have been pushing donors to get involved because already what we could cover for Anbar was minute in comparison to the needs, but now we are [possibly] looking at a million displaced people. I don’t see where this ends,” he added.

Aram Shakaram, Acting Country Director of Save the Children in Iraq, in a statement said the mass exodus from Mosul was “one of the largest and swiftest mass movements of people in the world in recent memory”, and also called for more funding by the international community.

Aid teams in the area report that several thousand people from Mosul have already entered the Kurdish provinces of Erbil and Dohuk, but most are in long queues on the other side of border, with limited access to food, water and shelter.