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Syrian refugees flooding into northern Iraq

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 20th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The construction of a new pontoon bridge has brought with it thousands of Syrian refugees, many from the embattled city of Aleppo, into the northern province of Iraq known as Kurdistan. An astonishing 29,000 refugees have streamed into Iraq since late last week. Observers say it's one of the largest crossings in Syria's two-year-old conflict.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The United nations says that the massive influx of refugees is ongoing. "It is a massive movement of people," Dan McNorton, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.

Some 20,000 are believed to have crossed over on Thursday and Saturday of last week. An additional 6,000 refugees on Sunday and about 3,000 on Monday are estimated to have arrived, McNorton said.

The previous record for Syrians fleeing the country in a 24-hour period was around 9,000. Those refugees were believed to have left on a single day last November, headed for Turkey.

"We don't have a full analysis of these people who have crossed," McNorton, asked whether if the latest refugees were Syrian Kurds, said. "We don't have a full accurate headcount of all those who are crossing."

The Peshkhabour pontoon bridge over the Tigris River has since been closed to refugees, remaining open only to commercial traffic. In response, the fleeing Syrians are now using the Sahela crossing, which is "a more isolated route," according to McNorton.

Emergency supplies and plastic tarpaulins have been built 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 neighboring countries, including Egypt since an uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in March of 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 in May, 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.

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