Human ‘river’ of Kurds flees Syria
Colin Freeman, London Telegraph, August 19, 2013
London: A human “river” of tens of thousands of Syrian Kurds has begun flowing into neighbouring Iraq to escape jihadist violence, United Nations officials have warned.
The UN’s refugee agency said that about 17,000 Syrian Kurds had come across the border since Thursday, in what it described as a “major exodus” that was stretching the ability of Iraqi refugee camps to cope.
The Kurds, a minority group who make up about 10 per cent of Syria’s population, have largely stayed out of the ongoing conflict, with government forces opting to withdraw entirely from Kurdish-dominated north-eastern Syria rather than fighting yet another front in the civil war.
Clashes have escalated in recent months between Kurdish militias and anti-government jihadist groups, for whom the Kurdish areas offer a conduit to fellow militants in Iraq. Earlier this month, Massoud Barzani, the president of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish area, which shares a border with north-east Syria, threatened to intervene if Kurds came under further attack.
Mr Barzani, whose own well-armed forces fought for independence against Saddam Hussein, said that if Kurds were “under threat of death and terrorism” then Iraqi Kurdistan would be “prepared to defend them”.
An estimated 154,000 Syrian refugees are already registered in Iraq. The latest influx appears to have been caused by the building of a new pontoon bridge over the Tigris.
"UN refugee agency staff at Sahela report what appears like a river of people coming towards the border," said Claire Bourgeois, the UNHCR’s Iraq representative, referring to a border crossing in north Iraq.
"We are witnessing a major exodus from Syria over the past few days unlike anything we have witnessed entering Iraq previously."
The UN said it was working with the government in Iraqi Kurdistan to establish a camp to accommodate the new rivals, one of the biggest single waves of refugees since the Syrian conflict started.