Amid a continuing exodus of Syrians into Iraq’s Kurdistan region, the heads of the UN refugee agency and the World Food Programme praised the regional government for giving refuge to almost 200,000 people, including some 47,000 who arrived in the last two weeks.
Despite the burden of accommodating such a large influx of refugees, the regional authorities have opened their border and offered land to accommodate the arriving Syrians in camps.
“This influx represents a huge strain on the economy and infrastructure here, and having a war next door is always a threat,” UNHCR chief António Guterres said on Thursday at Domiz Refugee Camp, 70 kilometers from the border with Syria and home to 45,000 refugees.
“I express my deep gratitude to the government and the people of the Kurdistan region who have welcomed so many Syrians in need of protection.”
Also addressing reporters following their visit to the camp, Executive Director of the World Food Programme Ertharin Cousin said: “We are here for the people. We will be here for as long as the government of the Kurdistan region continues to support us and as long as the people of Syria need us.”
The two officials later visited the Kawergost refugee camp near Erbil, an emergency site set up on a dusty plain to receive the thousands of Syrian refugees who suddenly began arriving two weeks ago. Over 1,200 Syrians streamed across the border on Thursday, arriving at the camp for registration.
Less than half the Syrian refugees live in camps, most preferring urban areas where they can seek work. Citing growing violence and instability compounded by a lack of services, the majority of the refugees fled from Hassake and Aleppo, with smaller numbers from Damascus and Raqqa.