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
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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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