Sudden, massive influx of Syrians into Iraq's Kurdistan region

News Stories, 16 August 2013

© UNHCR/G.Gubaeva
Thousands of people flowed from Syria across the Peshkhabour border crossing into Iraq's Dohuk Governorate

GENEVA, 16 August (UNHCR) Thousands of Syrians have streamed into northern Iraq in a sudden movement across a recently constructed bridge as the total fleeing war continues to rise, the UN refugee agency said on Friday.

UNHCR field officers reported the first group of some 750 Syrians crossed over the pontoon bridge at Peshkhabour at the Tigris River before noon on Thursday but in the afternoon a much larger group of 5,000 to 7,000 people followed.

"The factors allowing this sudden movement are not fully clear to us at this stage and as of this morning we are not seeing further large scale crossings," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told a news briefing in Geneva.

Some of the Syrians had reportedly been waiting near the Tigris River for two to three days, camped at a makeshift site. UNHCR monitors at the border saw scores of buses arriving on the Syrian side dropping off more people seeking to cross.

Edwards said both the Syrian and Iraqi sides of the frontier at the Peshkhabour crossing are normally tightly controlled.

The vast majority of the new arrivals are families -- women, children and elderly -- mainly from Aleppo, Efrin, Hassake and Qamishly. Some families told UNHCR they had relatives residing in northern Iraq, and some students traveling alone said that they had been studying in northern Iraq and had only returned to Syria over the recent Eid holidays.

"UNHCR and partner agency teams, together with local authorities, worked into the early hours of this morning to aid the new arrivals," Edwards said. UNHCR, its partners and the authorities provided water and food; IOM and the Kurdistan Regional Government provided hundreds of buses to move the refugees onwards to Dohuk and Erbil.

At Erbil, about 2,000 of the new arrivals are now encamped at a site in Kawergost town where UNHCR has established an emergency transit/reception area. Some new arrivals are sheltered under tents already installed by UNHCR. Other new arrivals are reportedly staying in mosques or residing with family or friends who reside in the area, the UN refugee agency said.

UNHCR is working with the Kurdistan Regional Government authorities, other UN agencies and NGO partners to establish a camp at Darashakran a short distance from the emergency transit site.

"This should open in two weeks, and our hope is it will relieve pressure at the crowded Domiz camp and enable refugees currently living in costly rented accommodation to move to a UNHCR-assisted camp," Edwards said.

UNHCR thanked Iraqi authorities and particularly the Kurdistan Regional Government for their involvement in negotiations to permit the new arrivals to cross and the transport and other assistance that was provided at the frontier.

"As of today 1,916,387 Syrians have fled the war and registered as refugees or applied for registration. Two-thirds of these have arrived this year," Edwards said.

There are now more than 684,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, 516,000 in Jordan, 434,000 in Turkey, 154,000 in Iraq and 107,000 in Egypt.

Governments in the region are carefully managing their borders with Syria, mainly due to their own national security concerns, but refugees continue to cross into neighbouring countries in a gradual manner. UNHCR has urged countries in the region and further afield to keep borders open and to receive all Syrians who seek protection.

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Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

As world concern grows over the plight of hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians, including more than 200,000 refugees, UNHCR staff are working around the clock to provide vital assistance in neighbouring countries. At the political level, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres was due on Thursday (August 30) to address a closed UN Security Council session on Syria.

Large numbers have crossed into Lebanon to escape the violence in Syria. By the end of August, more than 53,000 Syrians across Lebanon had registered or received appointments to be registered. UNHCR's operations for Syrian refugees in Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley resumed on August 28 after being briefly suspended due to insecurity.

Many of the refugees are staying with host families in some of the poorest areas of Lebanon or in public buildings, including schools. This is a concern as the school year starts soon. UNHCR is urgently looking for alternative shelter. The majority of the people looking for safety in Lebanon are from Homs, Aleppo and Daraa and more than half are aged under 18. As the conflict in Syria continues, the situation of the displaced Syrians in Lebanon remains precarious.

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Turkish Camps Provide Shelter to 90,000 Syrian Refugees

By mid-September, more than 200,000 Syrian refugees had crossed the border into Turkey. UNHCR estimates that half of them are children, and many have seen their homes destroyed in the conflict before fleeing to the border and safety.

The Turkish authorities have responded by building well-organized refugee camps along southern Turkey's border with Syria. These have assisted 120,000 refugees since the crisis conflict erupted in Syria. There are currently 12 camps hosting 90,000 refugees, while four more are under construction. The government has spent approximately US$300 million to date, and it continues to manage the camps and provide food and medical services.

The UN refugee agency has provided the Turkish government with tents, blankets and kitchen sets for distribution to the refugees. UNHCR also provides advice and guidelines, while staff from the organization monitor voluntary repatriation of refugees.

Most of the refugees crossing into Turkey come from areas of northern Syria, including the city of Aleppo. Some initially stayed in schools or other public buildings, but they have since been moved into the camps, where families live in tents or container homes and all basic services are available.

Turkish Camps Provide Shelter to 90,000 Syrian Refugees

Displaced inside Syria: UNHCR and its Dedicated Staff help the Needy

The violence inside Syria continues to drive people from their homes, with some seeking shelter elsewhere in their country and others risking the crossing into neighbouring countries. The United Nations estimates that up to 4 million people are in need of help, including some 2 million believed to be internally displaced.

The UN refugee agency has 350 staff working inside Syria. Despite the insecurity, they continue to distribute vital assistance in the cities of Damascus, Aleppo, Al Hassakeh and Homs. Thanks to their work and dedication, more than 350,000 people have received non-food items such as blankets, kitchen sets and mattresses. These are essential items for people who often flee their homes with no more than the clothes on their backs. Cash assistance has been given to more than 10,600 vulnerable Syrian families.

Displaced inside Syria: UNHCR and its Dedicated Staff help the Needy

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