UNHCR reports sharp increase in number of Iraqis fleeing to Jordan and Turkey

Some 60 per cent of the refugees in Jordan cite fears of ISIS as reason for flight. An average 120 Iraqis per day register with UNHCR in Jordan in September.

Iraqis fleeing from militants earlier this year. The number of Iraqis now seeking refuge in Jordan and Turkey is rising.  © UNHCR/E.Colt

GENEVA, September 23 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency on Tuesday reported that it has witnessed a sharp increase in the number of Iraqis fleeing their country in recent weeks, with 60 per cent of those arriving in Jordan citing fears of ISIS militants as the reason for their flight.

UNHCR's chief spokesperson, Melissa Fleming, told journalists in Geneva that 120 Iraqis per day on average have registered with the refugee agency in Jordan in August and September, up from 65 per day in June and July and just 30 per day in the first five months of this year.

"Almost two thirds of new arrivals (60 per cent) hail from ISIS-controlled areas in Ninewa, Salah Al Din and Anbar governorates," Fleming said. "Refugees report their homes being burned, forced conversion to Islam, fears of forced marriage, kidnapping and public threats," she added. The rest of the newly arriving refugees in Jordan have fled sectarian violence in Baghdad and Basra.

One father of three, a 32-year-old primary school teacher, told UNHCR how he saved his family from ISIS. They left at night and on foot from the northern Iraq town of Tal Usquf, carrying just one bag between them containing their life's documents - a marriage certificate, passports and proof of school enrolments.

The man told UNHCR that his daughters cried all the way. "Two of his children were preparing for their final exams in high school, their education now on hold," Fleming said in Geneva, adding: "Like many families who fled from violence on foot, Jassim had to leave behind an elderly relative - an uncle, confined to a wheelchair since birth." The family has since learned that he died in Ninewa.

So far this year, more than 10,600 Iraqi refugees have registered with UNHCR in Jordan, with 1,383 registering in August alone - the highest monthly tally of new registrations since 2007.

Also in Jordan, for the first time since the Syrian war began more than three years ago, refugees from the northern governorates of the country - including from Raqqa - make up the majority of new arrivals. In the past, refugees from southern Syria have been more prevalent.

A daily average of 250 people a day are seeking asylum in Jordan through the north-eastern border crossing of Ruwashid. The number of refugees in Jordan citing ISIS as the reason for fleeing is on the increase.

Meanwhile in Turkey, some 103,000 Iraqi refugees have come forward to be registered by UNHCR or its partners, including 65,000 since ISIS forces took over the city of Mosul and surrounds in Ninewa governorate in June. "We know many thousands more are in the eastern part of Turkey and have yet to come forward for registration," UNHCR's Fleming said.

Last month, UNHCR carried out a profiling exercise among more than 2,500 Iraqis seeking to be registered with UNHCR's partner in Ankara. Almost half of those interviewed said they had escaped ISIS attacks, while another 20 per cent said they fled for fear of ISIS attacks. A further 20 per cent indicated they had escaped sectarian violence. Almost half of all interviewed households were Kurdish, while 33 per cent were Arabs.