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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Thousands of Syrian Kurds Flee to Iraq to Escape Turkish Incursion

By Lisa Schlein October 30, 2019

The U.N. refugee agency reports thousands of Syrian refugees have fled to Iraq in less than two weeks to escape Turkey's military onslaught in Kurdish-controlled areas of northeastern Syria.

The UNHCR says since the last influx of Syrian refugees nearly two weeks ago, more than 12,000 people have crammed into the recently opened Bardarash camp, and more than 800 other refugees are sheltering at the Gawilan Transit site. Both places are about 150 kilometers east of the border.

UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic says his agency is working with Iraqi authorities to reunite the newly arrived refugees with family members living in Iraq's Kurdistan region.

"UNCHR is supporting the response led by the local authorities and it is working closely with them to ready other locations, in the event that both sites reach their capacity," he said. "Refugee families at both locations are receiving the same services and humanitarian assistance. This includes hot meals, transportation, registration, shelter and protection services."

Turkey began its so-called Operation Peace Spring against Kurdish-led forces in Syria on Oct. 9. The offensive began after the Trump administration announced it was withdrawing U.S. troops who have been allied with the Syrian Kurds in the region. The Kurds, who have lost thousands of people in fighting against Islamic State militants, have accused Washington of betraying them.

The UNHCR reports nearly 180,000 Syrian Kurds, including some 80,000 children, have been displaced since the start of the Turkish assault. Dozens of civilians reportedly have been killed. The U.N. estimates 1.3 million people in the region are in need of humanitarian assistance.

The U.N. refugee agency reports women and children comprise around three-quarters of the Syrian refugees in the two camp sites in Iraq. It says many are in need of psycho-social counseling.

UNHCR spokesman Mahecic says agency teams are conducting protection monitoring and child protection, and are working to identify unaccompanied children and people with specific needs.

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