A cavalcade of bomb attacks across Iraq killed nearly 50 people on Sunday, but that hasn’t stopped desperate Syrians from pouring over the border to escape their country’s surging civil war.
During the past week, more than 37,000 people have fled Syria—the largest outpouring of refugees since the conflict began two-and-a-half years ago, according to the World Food Programme—and 15,000 of these Syrians have arrived at the brand-new Kawrgosk camp in northern Iraq. They brought the few personal items they could carry and have found temporary homes among the tents emblazoned with the U.N. Refugee Agency seal that now dot part of the northern Iraqi desert.
Some refugees traveled for 20 hours by bus and on foot to escape the escalating violence, days after the opposition accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of carrying out a chemical attack in the suburbs of Damascus, killing hundreds of people. The Syrian government has denied being involved in the August 21 poison gas attack.
Refugees have been pouring out of Syria since armed rebels began efforts to overthrow Assad in 2011, with most people escaping to Lebanon or Jordan. The new influx to Iraq, where the Shiite-led government is generally supportive of Assad, points to the growing desperation of those trapped in the crossfire.
— Robert Laprade (@robertolaprade) August 23, 2013
— صحيفة الشرق الأوسط (@aawsat_News) August 24, 2013
“Volunteers are collecting mattresses and household items donated by citizens in the Kurdistan region for Syrian refugees.“
Syrians are also trading one restive locale for another. Violence in Iraq was at its highest level in years during the the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which ended in early August. More than 670 people were killed, many in sectarian-fueled fighting between the ruling Shiites and Sunnis who say they are being marginalized by the government of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.
Syrians are crossing the border at a rate of about 3,500 per day, and there are now 192,000 Syrians living in Iraq, most of them in Kurdistan, the WFP said. The aid agency is increasing rations and donations to Iraq to keep pace with need. Food for 185,000 people was on its way to northern Iraq, WFP officials said last week.