|Syrians streaming into Kurdistan, Iraq on August 15, 2013. Credit: UNHCR/G.Gubaeva.|
Following recent clashes in Syria between al-Qaeda linked opposition groups and Kurdish forces, 20,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Iraqi Kurdistan – an autonomous region of northern Iraq – in the last six days.
“The factors allowing this sudden movement are not fully clear to us at this stage,” said Adrian Edwards, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman, at an Aug. 16 news briefing.
Around noon on Aug. 15, a group of some 750 Syrian refugees crossed a new bridge across the Tigris River on the border between Syria and Iraq near the Iraqi town of Faysh Khabur. Later that day, another group of between 5,000 and 7,000 people followed.
On Aug. 17, as many as 10,000 refugees entered Iraq at Faysh Khabur, bringing the total number of refugees at the single point to 20,000 in less than a week.
The Syrian refugees are fleeing the civil war which has its roots in March 2011, when demonstrations against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad began. That April, the Syrian army began to deploy to put down the uprisings, firing on protesters.
Since then, the civil war has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people.
The large influx of refugees at Faysh Khabur adds to the 1.9 million Syrian refugees in nearby countries, most of whom are in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. Another 4.25 million Syrian people are believed to have been internally displaced by the war.
The Syrian opposition is divided among secularists, Islamists, and Kurds.
In mid-July, Kurdish forces fought with al-Qaeda affiliated Islamists, including the al-Nusra Front, and fought them off on July 17, according to Saudi news channel Al Arabiya. At the city of Ras al-Ain on the Turkish border, 29 people were killed.
Since then, Islamists have reportedly killed hundreds of Syrian Kurds.
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