Tens of thousands of Syrian Kurds swarmed across a bridge into neighboring Iraq’s northern self-ruled Kurdish region over the past few days in one of the biggest waves of refugees since the rebellion against President Bashar Assad began, U.N. officials said Monday.
The sudden exodus of around 30,000 Syrians amid the summer heat has created desperate conditions and left aid agencies and the regional government struggling to accommodate them, illustrating the huge strain the 2 1/2-year-old Syrian conflict has put on neighboring countries.
The mostly Kurdish men, women and children who made the trek join some 1.9 million Syrians who already have found refuge abroad from Syria’s relentless carnage.
“This is an unprecedented influx of refugees, and the main concern is that so many of them are stuck out in the open at the border or in emergency reception areas with limited, if any, access to basic services,” said Alan Paul, emergency team leader for the Britain-based charity Save the Children.
The U.N. said the reason for this flow, which began five days ago and continued unabated Monday, is unclear. But Kurdish areas in northeastern Syria have been engulfed by fighting in recent months between Kurdish militias and Islamic extremist rebel factions with links to al-Qaida. Dozens have been killed.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has set up an emergency transit camp in Irbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region, to house some of the new arrivals. Some of the refugees were said to be staying in mosques or with family or friends who live in the area, according to the agency.
UNHCR said it is sending 15 truckloads of supplies — 3,100 tents, two pre-fabricated warehouses and thousands of jerry cans to carry water — from its regional stockpile in Jordan. It said the shipment should arrive by the end of the week.