Thousands of Syrian Kurdish refugees leave Turkey for Iraq: UN
Thousands of Syrian Kurds who fled the Islamic State jihadists' assault on the town of Kobane have moved from Turkey to Iraq or back to safer parts of their homeland, the UN said Friday.
"We are seeing growing numbers choosing to continue their journey, either by heading to the Kurdistan region of Iraq or else crossing back into Syria several hundred kilometres to the east," said Adrian Edwards, spokesman for the UN high commissioner for refugees.
Some 172,000 Kurds have fled to Turkey to escape the onslaught on the key border town and its surrounding region, Edwards told reporters, though Turkish authorities have said the number could be around 200,000.
Numbers moving on to Iraq's Kurdistan region are on the rise, Edwards said, with 1,600 arriving at the remote Gawilan refugee camp over the past two weeks.
"Between 150 and 200 Syrians have been arriving daily this week, and the trend is expected to continue in the coming days," he said.
Most have reported having spent 10-14 days in the area around Sanilurfa in Turkey before heading eastwards into Iraq.
"Conditions in the area have been difficult. People have contended with living in crowded mosques or in some cases on the streets without food or money," said Edwards.
"Many of the refugees were required to leave cars or livestock at the border when they entered Turkey, and decided to move to northern Iraq because they have relatives or friends there," he added.
Those arriving the Gawilan camp -- often with the help of Iraqi Kurdish security forces -- have recounted stories of their odyssey.
Edwards said there were several accounts of people being killed or maimed by landmines during their journey from Syria to Turkey.
To reach Iraq, they waded across deep rivers, or paid smugglers $250 (197 euros) to get through an informal border crossing at Silopi.
There were also chilling accounts of atrocities by Islamic State fighters in Syria.
"One man said he had fled his village because people taken captive were being beheaded," said Edwards.
Another managed to flee after being sentenced to death by a makeshift court at a school in Manbij, south of Kobane, where 100 people where held in each of the four classrooms, beaten daily, and watched fellow inmates being beheaded.
"He and others managed to escape before then when the school was hit by bombs, and were horrified to see human heads mounted on the fence of the main park for others in the town to see," said Edwards.
Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, is Syria's third largest Kurdish town after Qamishli and Afrin.
Some 1,750 Kurds who fled to Turkey have opted to cross back into northeastern Syria to reach Qamishli and the surrounding area, said Edwards.
© 2014 AFP