Iraq-Syria Border Opens
When the Peshkhabour border opened at 2pm on Thursday, 15 August, the original intention was to host 2,000 Syrian refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan. Yet in just ten days, over 42,000 refugees have crossed the border. As the number continues to swell, this influx represents the single largest wave of refugees into Iraq since the Syrian conflict began.
IOM Iraq, in close coordination with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), UNHCR, and other international organisations, responded rapidly to receive the flood of refugees, working round the clock to alleviate immediate needs and facilitate safe movement into Iraqi Kurdistan.
Since May 2013, Syrian refugees have been waiting – hoping the border with Iraq would open. For the last three months, the border was closed to all except the most serious medical cases; only 400 people crossed into Iraqi Kurdistan during this period, and all were transported immediately to the nearest hospitals.
Yet the closed crossings did not deter others – scared with nowhere else to go – from fleeing to the Syrian side of the border in anticipation of its opening. Most travelled from their homes by bus to the town of Hasaka and then carried on by foot to the border. As the middle of August approached, the number of Syrians waiting at the border crossings swelled to approximately 7,000 people. Sick and hungry, some had spent three or four nights camped out at the border in hopes of crossing.
On the first day of the opening, nearly 5,000 Syrians poured into Iraqi Kurdistan through the Peshkhabour crossing. As word of the open border spread, those who had camped in nearby Hasaka, sleeping in the streets and taking shelter in local mosques, began the 5 km trek to the border.
Over the weekend and into the following week, the numbers continued to increase and Peshkhabour and Sehela crossings alternately remained open – with IOM Iraq staff stationed along every step of the process to ensure that the refugees arrived to locations in Iraqi Kurdistan safely and securely.