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

Multimedia US Defense Secretary: Iraqi Forces Lack 'Will to Fight'

Ash Carter criticizes Iraq's reaction to Islamic State; National Security Advisor Susan Rice echoed Carter's concerns in an interview on CBS More

Boko Haram Surrounds Havens With Land Mines

Chad and Cameroon say huge numbers of land mines planted by Boko Haram fighters along Cameroon's border with Nigeria are a danger to people, livestock and soldiers More

Women Peace Activists Cross Korean DMZ

Governments of Koreas give international delegation of women peace activists permission to pass through heavily fortified border, but some critics say symbolic crossing only benefits Pyongyang More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs