GENEVA, (Reuters) – An estimated 29,000 Syrian refugees have entered northern Iraq since Thursday in one of the largest crossings in Syria’s two-year-old conflict and the influx is continuing, the United Nations said yesterday.
Syrians fleeing fighting in Aleppo and other embattled parts of northern Syria began pouring into the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq last Thursday, taking advantage of a new pontoon bridge along the largely closed border, it said.
“It is a massive movement of people,” said Dan McNorton, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The new figure includes some 20,000 now believed to have crossed over on Thursday and Saturday last week as well as 6,000 on Sunday and about 3,000 on Monday morning, he said.
The previous record for Syrians fleeing the country in a 24-hour period was around 9,000 believed to have left on a single day last November, mainly for Turkey, according to the UNHCR.
McNorton, asked whether most of the latest refugees were Syrian Kurds, said: “We don’t have a full analysis of these people who have crossed. We don’t have a full accurate headcount of all those who are crossing.”
The recently built Peshkhabour pontoon bridge over the Tigris River has since been closed to refugees, remaining open only to commercial traffic, but fleeing Syrians are now using the Sahela crossing, “a more isolated route”, McNorton said.
UNHCR has sent trucks loaded with emergency supplies and erected plastic tarpaulins at a transit site to provide shelter from the sun and heat. A refugee camp being built at Darashakran is expected to open by the end of August, McNorton said. More than 1.9 million Syrian refugees have registered in neighbouring countries as well as Egypt since an uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.
Prior to the latest exodus, they included 154,000 Syrians who had registered as refugees in Iraq.
The border between Syria and Iraq had been largely closed since authorities of the Iraqi Kurdish regional government shut the crossing on May 19, apart from a single formal crossing point at Al-Wahid in Anbar province.
Some 700 Syrian refugees were allowed to cross on July 15 for medical reasons and to rejoin relatives, according to UNHCR.