The government of Iraqi Kurdistan has put in place an entry quota of 3,000 refugees a day to cope with an influx of Kurds fleeing the civil war in Syria, aid agencies said on Tuesday.
About 30,000 refugees, believed to be mainly Syrian Kurds, have poured into Iraq since Thursday, and up to 3,000 were lined up to cross on Tuesday, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said.
Fleeing bombardments and sectarian tensions in parts of northern Syria including Aleppo and Efrin, they arrive exhausted, with many children dehydrated from walking in the scorching heat.
“The Kurdistan regional government authorities have put a daily quota for those refugees who will be allowed in,” Jumbe Omari Jumbe of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) told reporters in Geneva.
“Today they will allow 3,000 persons in, but yesterday a similar quota of 3,000 was set but, at the end of the day, 5,000 refugees were allowed to cross.”
A Western diplomat in Geneva said it was not clear how many more refugees might be on their way, adding: “We are not sure whether there is an actual quota policy or whether it is a practical ability to absorb them.”
The IOM is providing food and water upon arrival, and transport for refugees to three transit facilities. It plans to deploy an ambulance to ferry the sick from the border to camps.
Jumbe said the Kurds feared attacks by various armed rebel groups including al-Nusra, an Islamist militia linked to al-Qaida.
Drained, hot and thirsty
Both al Nusra and al-Qaida's Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant have in recent months been fighting for control of parts of northern and northeastern Syria against Kurdish groups who have taken advantage of the anti-Assad rebellion to assert their control over majority-Kurdish areas.
The influx began last Thursday when the Kurdistan regional government authorities in northern Iraq opened access across the newly built Peshkhabour pontoon bridge, UNHCR said. The bridge has now been reserved for commercial traffic and refugees have been directed to use the Sahela crossing to the south, it added.
“This new exodus from Syria is among the largest we have seen in the conflict,” UNHCR spokesman Dan McNorton told reporters.
“Those people crossing this morning ... are drained, they are hot and thirsty, they are walking on a long dirt road as we speak in a long line,” McNorton said.
More than 1.9 million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries and North Africa since the uprising began in March 2011 and Syria descended into civil war.
Nearly half the estimated 4,800 people who crossed on Monday are children, the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) said. It has identified at least 80 unaccompanied teenage boys sent across the border by their families for safety or to find work.
“Many are below 12 years old, and the younger ones were particularly dehydrated and exhausted after the four or five hour walk across the border in the scorching heat,” UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado said.
The World Food Program (WFP) will begin distributing food to refugee families from its stocks in Erbil and Al Qaim in Iraq and will send rations to feed 185,000 people for one month from the port of Mersin in Turkey, spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said.