Austrian foreign minister in Erbil to boost ties, vows more humanitarian aid

Sebastian Kurz with Prime Minister of Kurdistan Region Nachirwan Bargain

ERBIL, Kurdistan (Rudaw) – Visiting Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said in Erbil Monday that his country is looking into opening a consulate and holding an “economic summit” in Kurdistan.

Kurz told reporters that his country backs the Kurdistan Region’s war against the Islamic State (ISIS), praising its frontline Peshmerga forces for their “bravery against the terrorists.”

He said that a planned honorary consulate in Erbil would promote “the already healthy relations between Kurdistan and Austria.”

“We have plans for an economic summit in Kurdistan with the help of the companies that are operating here,” he said at a joint press conference with his Kurdish counterpart, Falah Mustafa.

Kurz also praised Kurdistan for sheltering some 1.5 million refugees from Syria and other parts of war-torn Iraq, vowing his country would continue to increase humanitarian aid.

“We know about the great number of refugees here, which is equivalent to one third of Kurdistan’s population,” Kurz said. “We have brought with us $1.250,000 which was donated in Austria to help refugees in Kurdistan and indeed it will not be the last aid,” he said.

So far some 30 countries have opened diplomatic missions in the Kurdistan Region, including the United States, China, Russia and the United Kingdom.

With the rest of Iraq teetering under violence and war, numerous foreign companies have also set up base in Kurdistan. The World Bank indicated a 9 per cent growth for Kurdistan in 2013, before an ISIS attack in August that imposed a war on Erbil.

“We need Austria, which is an EU member state, to help us open an official representative for the European Union in Erbil,” Mustafa told reporters. The Austrian foreign minister expressed his country’s support for the mission.

Austria was among the first European countries to start flights to Kurdistan, which Austrian Airlines began in 2006. Austria is home to about 25,000 Kurds, who migrated there in the late 1980s and 1990s as international sanctions on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq heavily affected Kurdistan.