News / Middle East

    Syrian Refugees Flee to Iraq by Barge

    FILE - Umm Mohammed, 68, cries during an interview with The Associated Press as hundreds of Syrian women stand in line waiting to collect aid from relief agencies helping Syrian refugees.
    FILE - Umm Mohammed, 68, cries during an interview with The Associated Press as hundreds of Syrian women stand in line waiting to collect aid from relief agencies helping Syrian refugees.
    Lisa Schlein
    The U.N. refugee agency reports more than 2,500 Syrians fled by barge into Iraq’s Kurdistan region on Sunday.  According to UNHCR, this is the first large-scale crossing of refugees since Iraq closed its border with Syria in mid-September.

    Border crossings between Iraqi Kurdistan and Syria closed more than three months ago following an exodus of some 60,000 Syrian refugees. A pontoon bridge, which had been the main mode of escape, is not now in use.

    As a consequence, the U.N. refugee agency reports this recent group of Syrians piled into small barges to flee into Iraq.  The agency says each barge carried between 10 and 30 people and that the journey from Simelka, on the Syrian side of the river, took about 20 minutes.

    UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said the Syrians were allowed to cross into Kurdistan due to a new, more flexible approach adopted by the Iraqi authorities.

    “They are allowing Syrians a seven-day time period to come across and spend time in the country and shop," Fleming explained. "It seems that a lot of them are buying things, buying supplies -- much needed supplies and going back. Those who want to stay beyond the seven days need to legalize their stay, request status as refugees and then they will be taken to one of UNHCR’s camps.”

    Fleming said most of the people seem keen to return to Syria. She said UNHCR staff saw about 350 of the new arrivals load barges on Monday - a day after they arrived - and go back to Syria with generators, kerosene heaters and other supplies.

    She added that about 400 other people who requested asylum were taken to one of UNHCR’s refugee camps.  The agency operates 13 camps or transit sites for Syrian refugees in Iraq's Kurdistan region and one in western Anbar Province.  Iraq hosts 210,000 registered Syrian refugees.

    In addition to the refugee crisis, Fleming says the UNHCR is concerned about the growing number of people fleeing violence in the Iraqi cities of Fallujah and Ramadi.  Iraqi government forces want to retake the cities from al-Qaida - linked Islamist militants.

    Fleming said the UNHCR is ready to assess the needs of the displaced people and help them.

    “People who are uprooted in an instant very often flee with just the clothes on their backs even if it is in their own countries," she noted. "We have heard that they are sheltering with other families, but also in public buildings and very much could be in need of supplies.”

    Iraq already has more than one million internally displaced people who fled their homes during sectarian violence between 2006 and 2008.  Most are living in Baghdad, Diyala and Ninewa.

    Meanwhile, international agencies including the UNHCR and U.N. Children’s Fund are proposing a $1 billion investment strategy to prevent, what they call, a lost generation of Syrian children, affected by the turmoil of the Syrian civil war.

    This appeal comes one week ahead of a major donor conference in Kuwait for humanitarian aid to Syria.

    You May Like

    Video Russia's Expat Community Shrinking

    Russia's troubled economy, tensions with West have led hundreds of thousands of foreigners to leave for better opportunities

    Accelerating the Push Against Islamic State: What Will Work?

    Experts stress need to step up military action, address root causes of Muslims' disaffection, counter IS social media messages in a massive way

    Experts: N. Korean Abductions Sought to Halt Brain Drain

    Pyongyang abducted about 3,800 South Koreans and more than a dozen Japanese nationals in late 1970s

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.