More Syrian refugees pour into Iraq's Kurdish region
UN agency says an unprecedented number of Syrians are crossing the border to flee fighting
Thousands of Syrians were flowing across the border into Iraq's Kurdish region to escape battles between jihadis and Kurd forces in their homeland, the UN refugee agency said yesterday.
The UNHCR reported a "river" of Syrians crossing into Iraqi Kurdistan, after more than 15,000 entered Iraq on Thursday and Saturday, figures the agency said were unprecedented.
"UN-refugee-agency staff at Sahela today 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 northern Iraq.
"UNHCR is witnessing a major exodus from Syria over the past few days, unlike anything we have witnessed entering Iraq previously," she added.
The UN refugee agency said the 15,000 who crossed into Iraq on Thursday and Saturday were in addition to about 154,000 Syrian refugees already registered in Iraq.
Syria's Kurds have tried to avoid antagonising forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad or rebels fighting to overthrow him, but there has been fierce fighting in recent weeks between Kurdish forces and the jihadist al-Nusra Front, which is also fighting Assad.
The exodus came as UN inspectors arrived in the Syrian capital to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons.
Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said before their arrival that Syria would "fully co-operate" with the 20-member team.
"We will provide it with all information we have and all facilities to reach a rational conclusion," he said.
The UN team's mission will be limited to investigating the alleged use of chemical weapons in three areas, in particular the March 19 attack in Khan al-Assal that Assad blames on rebels. The other two sites have been kept secret.
Assad's government and the rebels fighting to topple him each say the other side has used chemical weapons during the 28-month conflict.
Additional reporting byAssociated Press