Large influx of Syrians seen into Iraq's Kurdistan region on Thursday

Briefing Notes, 16 August 2013

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 16 August 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Thousands of Syrians crossed into northern Iraq yesterday (August 15th) in a sudden, massive movement. UNHCR field officers present described waves of people "streaming" over the recently constructed bridge at Peshkhabour.

The factors behind this sudden movement are not fully clear to us, and since last night we have not seen further large scale crossings. Some of the Syrians had reportedly been waiting near the Tigris River for two to three days encamped at a makeshift site. UNHCR monitors at the border saw scores of buses arriving on the Syrian side dropping off more people seeking to cross over. Both the Syrian and Iraqi sides of the frontier at the Peshkhabour crossing are normally tightly controlled.

The first group of Syrians, some 750 persons, crossed over the pontoon bridge at Peshkhabour at the Tigris River before noon. Later in the afternoon a much larger group of 5,000 to 7,000 people followed.

The vast majority of the new arrivals are families (women, children and elderly persons) mainly from Aleppo, Efrin, Hassake and Qamishly. Some families have told us they have relatives residing in northern Iraq, and some students traveling alone said that they had been studying in northern Iraq and had only returned to Syria over the recent Eid holidays.

UNHCR and partner agency teams, together with local authorities worked into the early hours of this morning to aid the new arrivals. UNHCR, its partners and the authorities provided water and food to the new arrivals. IOM and the Kurdistan Regional Government provided hundreds of buses to move the refugees onwards to Dohuk and Erbil.

At Erbil, about 2,000 of the new arrivals are now encamped at a site in Kawergost town where UNHCR has established an emergency transit/reception area. Some of the new arrivals are sheltered under tents already installed by UNHCR. Other new arrivals are reportedly staying in mosques or residing with family or friends who reside in the area.

UNHCR is working with the Kurdistan Regional Government authorities, other UN agencies and NGO partners to establish a camp at Darashakran a short distance from the emergency transit site. This should open in two weeks, and our hope is it will relieve pressure at the crowded Domiz camp and enable refugees currently living in costly rented accommodation to move to a UNHCR-assisted camp.

UNHCR is grateful to the Iraqi authorities and particularly the Kurdistan Regional Government for their involvement in negotiations to permit the new arrivals to cross and the transport and other assistance that was provided at the frontier.

As of today 1,916,387 Syrians have fled the war and registered as refugees or applied for registration. Two-thirds of these have arrived this year. There are now more than 684,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, 516,000 in Jordan, 434,000 in Turkey, 154,000 in Iraq (not including yesterday's arrivals) and 107,000 in Egypt.

Governments in the region are carefully managing their borders with Syria mainly due to their own national security concerns, but refugees continue to cross into neighbouring countries in a gradual manner. UNHCR continues to urge countries in the region and further afield to keep borders open and to receive all Syrians who seek protection.

For more information, please contact:

  • In Amman, Peter Kessler at +962 79 631 79 01 or kessler@unhcr.org
  • In Geneva, Adrian Edwards at +41 79 557 91 20 or edwards@unhcr.org
  • In Geneva, Dan McNorton at +41 79 217 30 11 or mcnorton@unhcr.org
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Jihan's Story

Like millions, 34-year-old Jihan was willing to risk everything in order to escape war-torn Syria and find safety for her family. Unlike most, she is blind.

Nine months ago, she fled Damascus with her husband, Ashraf, 35, who is also losing his sight. Together with their two sons, they made their way to Turkey, boarding a boat with 40 others and setting out on the Mediterranean Sea. They hoped the journey would take eight hours. There was no guarantee they would make it alive.

After a treacherous voyage that lasted 45 hours, the family finally arrived at a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, called Milos - miles off course. Without support or assistance, they had to find their own way to Athens.

The police detained them for four days upon their arrival. They were cautioned to stay out of Athens, as well as three other Greek cities, leaving them stranded.

By now destitute and exhausted, the family were forced to split up - with Ashraf continuing the journey northwards in search of asylum and Jihan taking their two sons to Lavrion, an informal settlement about an hour's drive from the Greek capital.

Today, Jihan can only wait to be reunited with her husband, who has since been granted asylum in Denmark. The single room she shares with her two sons, Ahmed, 5, and Mohammad, 7, is tiny, and she worries about their education. Without an urgent, highly complex corneal transplant, her left eye will close forever.

"We came here for a better life and to find people who might better understand our situation," she says, sadly. "I am so upset when I see how little they do [understand]."

Jihan's Story

Iraq Crisis: Finding a Place to Stay

Tens of thousands of people have fled to Erbil and Duhok governorates in Iraq's Kurdistan region over the past week, sheltering in schools, mosques, churches and temporary camps following a surge of violence in parts of central and northern Iraq. UNHCR and its partners have been working to meet the urgent shelter needs. The refugee agency has delivered close to 1,000 tents to a transit camp being built by the authorities and NGOs at Garmawa, near Duhok.

Many of the people arriving from Mosul at checkpoints between Ninewa and governorate and Iraq's Kurdistan region have limited resources and cannot afford to pay for shelter. Some people stay with family, while others are staying in hotels and using up their meagre funds.

In the village of Alqosh, some 150 people from 20 families, with little more than the clothes on their back, have been living in several overcrowded classrooms in a primary school for the past week. One member of the group said they had lived in a rented apartment in Mosul and led a normal family life. But in Alqosh, they feared for the welfare and education of their children and the presence of snakes and scorpions.

Iraq Crisis: Finding a Place to Stay

Iraq: Massive displacement from Mosul

In the past few days, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have fled fighting in the northern city of Mosul and other areas. UNHCR staff are on the ground to monitor the outflow and help those in need. The needs are immense, but UNHCR is working to provide shelter, protection, and emergency items, including tents. Many of the displaced left their homes without belongings and some lack money for housing, food, water or medical care. They arrive at checkpoints between Ninewa governorate and the Kurdistan region with no idea of where to go next, or how to pay expenses.

UN agencies, humanitarian groups, and government officials are coordinating efforts to do what they can to aid those in need. UN agencies are making an emergency request for additional support. UNHCR is hoping to provide emergency kits as well as thousands of tents. UNHCR and its partners will also be working to protect and help the displaced.

The exodus in the north comes on top of massive displacement this year in the western Iraqi governorate of Anbar, where fighting since January has forced some half-a-million people to flee the province or seek shelter in safer areas.

Iraq: Massive displacement from Mosul

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