UN Says Thousands of Syrians Fleeing to Iraq

In a mass exodus, around 30,000 Syrians have fled their homeland's bloody civil war and crossed over into neighboring Iraq's northern self-ruled Kurdish region over the past five days, the U.N. refugee agency said Monday.

The massive influx of people, many of whom are Syrian Kurds seeking refuge from escalating violence in northeastern Syria, has put severe strain on the resources of aid agencies as well as Iraqi Kurdistan's regional government.

"Syrian refugees are still pouring into Iraq's northern Kurdish region in huge numbers and most of them are women and children. The reason behind this sudden flow is still not clear," said Youssef Mahmoud, a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency in Iraq's Kurdish region.

"Today, some 3,000 Syrian refugees crossed the borders and that has brought the number to around 30,000 refugees since Thursday," he said, adding that the latest wave has brought the number of Syrian refugees in the Kurdish region to around 195,000.

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 reportedly staying in mosques or with family or friends who live in the area, according to the agency.

Kurds are Syria's largest ethnic minority, making up more than 10 percent of the country's 23 million people. They are centered in the poor northeastern regions of Hassakeh and Qamishli, wedged between the borders of Turkey and Iraq. There are also several predominantly Kurdish neighborhoods in the capital, Damascus, and Syria's largest city, Aleppo.

Those Kurdish areas 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 on both sides. The fighting in the oil-rich region has emerged as yet another layer in Syria's increasingly complex and bloody civil war.

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