The United Nations estimated that about 750 people first crossed the pontoon bridge over the Tigris River, but somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 people followed.
Most families who crossed were with women, children, and the elderly, reports Reuters. They came from Aleppo, Hassakeh, and other embattled areas of Syria, which is going through a bloody civil war.
More than 150,000 Syrian refugees are already registered in Iraq, reports Reuters. And the UN High Commissioner for Refugees UNHCR) has urged all of Syria’s neighboring countries to leave their borders open for more refugees in need of protection.
But the border between Syria and Iraq has been closed since authorities of the Kurdish regional government ordered the main crossing to close.
The BBC notes that up to 20,000 Syrian refugees have traveled over the crossing since Thursday. Officials don’t know why the influx is so high, and UN agencies, the regional government, and NGOs are having trouble coping.
The UNHCR added that this has been one of the largest waves of refugees it has dealt with since the civil war began with an uprising in March of 2011.
But while the reasons aren’t yet clear, they have seen a sharp rise in clashes between anti-government Islamist militants and the Syrian Kurds.
Charity Save the Children launched an emergency response to the Syrian refugees’ arrival. They distributed basic supplies to those waiting in line to be registered.
The UNHCR notes that, while the wave of refugees entering Iraq was surprising, the flow of refugees has actually dropped recently from when 5,000 to 8,000 people crossed into neighboring countries every day.
The agency is also closely monitoring the protests in Egypt, where 107,000 registered Syrian refugees are currently holed up. Not every refugee actually registers, so the estimated number of refugees in Egypt is more like 250,000.
It will take time for the latest Syrian refugees in Iraq to be settled.
[Image by US Department of State via Wikimedia Commons]