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Thousands of Syrian refugees pouring into Iraqi Kurdistan

February 13, 2014 at 12:38 am

The BBC has reported that thousands of Syrian refugees, from the Aleppo region, are fleeing to Iraqi Kurdistan. According to the report, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) confirmed that thousands of Syrian refugees are still pouring into Iraqi Kurdistan across the pontoon bridge at Peshkhabour over the Tigris River. The commissioner said that about 10,000 refugees had crossed the border at Peshkhabour on Saturday and about 7000 refugees had arrived in the region on the previous Thursday.

The international organisation says that the causes of this movement are unclear, but it may be related to the escalation of confrontations and clashes between Syrian Kurds and oppositionist, militant jihadists and opponents of the Syrian government. The UNHCR says that this wave of refugees was considered to be one of the biggest influxes that it has dealt with since the outbreak of the uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011.

The BBC’s correspondent in Lebanon, Jim Muir, said that most of the refugees who had flocked to Iraqi Kurdistan were residents of the northern Syrian provinces and they had taken advantage of a new bridge along the largely closed border at Peshkhabour.

Iraq currently hosts about 150, 000 Syrian refugees, who are registered with the United Nations, while the total number of refugees who have left Syria are estimated to be 3 million.

The Commission says that its field staff spotted the first group of 750 refugees, before noon last Thursday, but that the number had risen to about 7000 by the same afternoon. The UN says that most of the refugees are from Aleppo Hasakah and al-Qamishli.

A UNHCR spokesman, Adrian Edwards, told reporters at the commission headquarters in Geneva on Friday, “the factors behind this sudden movement of the refugees are not exactly clear to us .” The United Nations has said it is working, in cooperation with the Kurdistan regional government of Iraq and other specialised parties, on the construction of a refugee camp in Darashkran area in the province of Arbil. Edwards said, “the camp is expected to be opened in two weeks, which will ease the pressure on the current location of the refugees.”

The areas inhabited by Syrian Kurds, who make up about 10 per cent of the total population, have recently clashed with the Kurdish militia, who took over responsibility for security following the withdrawal of government forces during the last year, and militant jihadist organisations such as the Victory Front.

The President of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, Massoud Barzani, has also threatened to intervene in Syria to “defend” the Syrian Kurds. Barzani said “if Syrian Kurds receive threats of death and terrorism, Iraqi Kurdistan is ready to defend them.”