News / Middle East

Thousands of Syrians Flock to Kurdistan

A Syrian Kurdish refugee plays on a pile of dirt in the Dumiz refugee camp in northern Iraq, Feb. 15, 2013.
A Syrian Kurdish refugee plays on a pile of dirt in the Dumiz refugee camp in northern Iraq, Feb. 15, 2013.
VOA News
A sudden influx of thousands of Syrians have flocked to Iraq's Kurdistan region after weeks of fighting between Islamist insurgents and Kurds in northern Syria.

A reporter for VOA's Kurdish service in the northern Iraqi city of Dohuk says about 6,000 Syrian Kurds recently crossed a bridge over the Tigris River into the Kurdistan region. He says at least 1,000 are still waiting at the Syrian border to cross into Iraqi Kurdistan.

Speaking in Geneva Friday, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman Adrian Edwards said the rush of refugees started when a group of 750 refugees crossed into Peshkhabour in Iraqi Kurdistan on Thursday. Thousands more followed.

Most of the new refugees are women, children and the elderly. The U.N. says aid agencies and authorities are rushing food and water to the site.

The influx comes amid fierce fighting in recent weeks between Syrian Kurdish forces and the al-Qaida-linked group Jabhat al-Nusra, which is also fighting troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Kurdish leaders in Iraq and Syria are investigating unconfirmed reports of Kurdish massacres by al-Nusra. Syrian Kurds have largely attempted to stay on the sidelines in Syria's civil war, administrating their own affairs and towns.

Dr. Sarwar Abdul-Rahman, a member of the Iraqi Kurdistan regional parliament, told VOA's Kurdish service that his government should help the Syrian Kurds. “We want the affairs of the border to be organized, and we are aware that it has security implications, but Parliament has dedicated a large amount of the budget for security reasons so we should be able to maintain security. What is important for Kurds [from Syria] is to allow them come to Kurdistan region to do business and go back to their region where they need medicine and daily necessities.”

Before Thursday's sudden refugee influx, the border between Syria and northern Iraq was tightly-controlled. Kurdish officials say the fighting in the Kurdish area of Syria portends a refugee crisis for Iraq's Kurdistan.

Iraq already hosts more than 150,000 Syrian refugees, many living in makeshift enclaves.

The U.N. says more than 1.9 million Syrians have fled their country's civil conflict and applied to register as refugees. Lebanon houses nearly 700,000 Syrian refugees, and Jordan houses more than half a million.

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