21,000 Syrians Flee Into Iraq in Last 4 Days

The Kurdistan region in northern Iraq opened a bridge across the Tigris River last week as fighting continues.

Syrian refugees cross the border toward Iraq at Peshkhabour border point at Dahuk on Thursday.
National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros
Aug. 19, 2013, 8:28 a.m.

A stag­ger­ing num­ber of Syr­i­ans fled in­to north­ern Ir­aq in re­cent days after the coun­try opened a bridge across the Tigris River.

Since last Thursday, an es­tim­ated 21,000 people have crossed in­to the Kur­distan re­gion of Ir­aq — 10,000 just on Sat­urday alone. The United Na­tions says it ex­pects the in­flux to con­tin­ue dra­mat­ic­ally in the com­ing days, mak­ing this one of the largest single bor­der-cross­ings in the two-year Syr­i­an con­flict.

North­ern Syr­ia, primar­ily the ma­jor city of Aleppo, has seen some of the blood­i­est fight­ing between the re­gime of Pres­id­ent Bashar al-As­sad and rebel forces. Aleppo sits 280 miles from the Ir­aqi refugee camp that will host the flee­ing Syr­i­ans near the town of Dahuk.

The bridge was once open to flee­ing Syr­i­ans, but loc­al Kur­d­ish au­thor­it­ies closed the cross­ing in May. That left only one form­al cross­ing in the north­ern re­gion, ac­cord­ing to Re­u­ters.

The U.N. cap­tured the re­ac­tions of some of the refugees in a video pos­ted Monday. There, they in­ter­view two Syr­i­ans on why they fled:

“We came from Qam­ishly,” said Biruz Rashid. “It took us three days to get here. We are es­cap­ing an im­pov­er­ished life un­der fire and bul­lets that have af­fected thou­sands of in­no­cent people. There are no jobs, no fu­ture for our chil­dren and that is one reas­on we came, to change our lives.”

“We had no choice but to leave,” Reivan Farco said. “There is no work there. I thank the pres­id­ent for open­ing the bor­der.”

The video re­leased by the U.N. shows hun­dreds of refugees sur­round­ing trucks with men dis­trib­ut­ing food and wa­ter. As they toss boxes of food in­to the crowds, the few who catch the nour­ish­ment cel­eb­rate the new meal.

North­ern Ir­aq has only one op­er­at­ing refugee camp, sit­ting about 220 miles north of Bagh­dad, but thr­ere are plans to open an­oth­er one by the end of Au­gust. Since the start of the con­flict, 1.5 mil­lion people have fled Syr­ia to neigh­bor­ing coun­tries and re­gistered as refugees with the U.N. There are already 150,000 Syr­i­ans tak­ing refuge in Ir­aq.

Mean­while, a U.N. team ar­rived in the cap­it­al city of Dam­as­cus on Sunday to be­gin in­vest­ig­at­ing re­ports of chem­ic­al weapons use by the As­sad re­gime. Both rebel fight­ers and the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment have ac­cused each oth­er of us­ing the deadly sar­in gas, but Wash­ing­ton main­tains the weapons were de­ployed by the As­sad re­gime — a “red line” for Pres­id­ent Obama. The in­vest­ig­at­ors will vis­it three sites in Syr­ia where chem­ic­al weapons were sup­posedly used, in­clud­ing one town in the north.

Here is the video of the refugee cross­ing re­leased by the U.N.:

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