Some 30,000 Syrians flee to Iraq's Kurdistan region, more expected

News Stories, 20 August 2013

© UNHCR/G.Gubaeva
Syrians who fled across the Peshkhabour border into Kurdistan in northern Iraq walk towards a makeshift reception centre.

GENEVA, 20 August (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency said on Tuesday some 30,000 Syrians had streamed into northern Iraq since last week and thousands more were waiting to enter, fleeing communities across a wide swathe of northern Syria.

"With several tens of thousands of people having crossed since last week, this new exodus from Syria is among the largest we have so far seen during the conflict, which is now into its third year," UNHCR spokesman Dan McNorton told a news briefing.

"As of this morning, a further 2,000-3,000 people were reported waiting close to the Syrian side of the border, and expected to cross today," he said.

On Monday more than 4,800 people entered at Sahela, some 120 kilometres northwest of Mosul. Some were from Malikiyye city in the neighbouring Syrian governorate of al-Hasakah and told UNHCR they had fled an aerial bombardment that morning. Others arriving over the past few days were from further west, including Efrin and Aleppo, plus Al Hasakah and Al Qamishly.

"As well as people who told us they were fleeing recent bombings, others say they were escaping fighting and tension amongst various factions on the ground," McNorton said. "Also cited was the collapse of the economy due to war and the resulting difficulties in caring for their families."

The influx began last Thursday when the Kurdistan Regional Government authorities in northern Iraq suddenly opened access to the temporary Peshkhabour pontoon bridge north of Sahela, allowing several hundred people camped in the area since earlier last week to enter Iraq.

By the following morning thousands of people had swarmed across the swaying bridge over the Tigris. As of Saturday, UNHCR estimates 20,000 Syrians had crossed the Peshkhabour bridge. McNorton said they were followed by another 6,000 people on Sunday when fleeing Syrians were directed to use the Sahela border crossing, south of Peshkhabour.

In response to the influx UNHCR and partner agency teams have erected shelters to provide shade. Water and food distributions have also been set up at crossing points. The International Organization for Migration and the Kurdistan Regional Government have provided buses and trucks to move the thousands of people from the border zone deeper into Iraq.

In Erbil Governorate, further east, UNHCR has established a transit site at Kawergost with 1,100 UNHCR tents along with 200 tents assembled by the International Rescue Committee. The Kawergost transit site, north of Erbil town and in Khabat District, is now sheltering 7,000 to 9,000 Syrians. The President of the Kurdistan Region, Massoud Barzani, visited the transit site yesterday.

Over the past days UNHCR has dispatched more than 90 trucks with aid from Erbil. Relief items distributed include tents, plastic tarpaulins, sleeping mats, blankets, kitchen sets, hygienic supplies, water tanks, portable latrines, portable showers and electric fans. However, because of the scale and speed of the influx, some people at Kawergost still lack tents and have to camp under tarpaulins or other makeshift shelters.

On Monday authorities provided UNHCR with access to a warehouse in Bahrak, which is now used to house 2,500 Syrians. Land has been identified in Erbil's Qusthtapa district for another transit site. As well as those in tents, some 14,000 people are living with host families or are camped at mosques in the Erbil region.

Further to the southeast, at Sulemaniyah, 4,000 people are accommodated temporarily in 11 schools. As in Erbil, a temporary site is being set up. Some 3,000 people who arrived on Monday were transferred to Sulemaniyah.

On the Syrian side, the border at Sahela is controlled by Syrian Kurdish forces. The Kurdistan Regional Government has identified an additional site in Kushtapa where it has indicated UNHCR may establish another transit camp.

To boost stockpiles of rapidly depleting aid supplies within Iraq, UNHCR sent 15 tractor-trailer trucks to northern Iraq from its main regional stockpile in Amman. That shipment, expected to arrive this week, includes more than 3,100 tents, two pre-fabricated warehouses and jerry cans. Additional supplies are currently being organized.

Longer term, in cooperation with the Kurdish Regional Government, UNHCR and its partners are building the Darashakran camp, which is expected to be ready to accommodate refugees within weeks.

UNHCR built Domiz refugee camp near Dohuk, Iraq earlier this year. Domiz, originally constructed to accommodate 15,000 Syrian refugees, is currently overcrowded with more than 55,000 residents meaning new arrivals must be accommodated elsewhere. Prior to this latest influx, UNHCR had registered 155,000 Syrian refugees in Iraq.

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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.

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