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 Miami Cubans Divided on New US Policy

While older, more conservative Cuban Americans have promoted anti-Castro political movement for years, younger generations say economically, it is time for change More

2014 Sees Dramatic Uptick in Boko Haram Abductions

Militants suspected in latest mass kidnapping of over 100 people in Gumsuri, Nigeria on Sunday More

Video Cuba Deal Is Major Victory for Pope

Role of Francis hailed throughout US, Latin America - though some Cuban-American Catholics have mixed feelings More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid