Thousands of Syrians flee to Iraq
Around 30,000 Syrians have fled their homeland's civil war in a mass exodus and crossed over into neighbouring Iraq's northern self-ruled Kurdish region over the past five days.
The massive influx of people, many of whom are Syrian Kurds seeking refuge from escalating violence in north-eastern 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 a spokesman for the UN 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 UN 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.
Kurds are Syria's largest ethnic minority, making up more than 10% of the country's 23 million people. They are centred in the poor north eastern regions of Hassakeh and Qamishli, wedged between the borders of Turkey and Iraq. There are also several predominantly Kurdish neighbourhoods 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.