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UN concerned over border restrictions on Syrians

Published on 04/06/2013

Syrians trying to flee their conflict-ravaged homeland are facing growing difficulties as they try to get to neighbouring Iraq, Turkey and Jordan, the UN's refugee agency warned Tuesday.

“We call on all parties in the conflict to enable people to leave, and on countries in the region to keep their borders open,” UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told AFP.

Fleming declined to say who was to blame for the border restrictions, which reports on the ground suggest are due to fighting and checkpoints in Syria, as well as beefed up controls on the other side of the line.

The Peshkapor crossing into Iraq, in the Kurdistan region, has been shut since May 19, she told reporters. It was unclear if the border was shut on the Iraqi or Syrian side, or both.

“Consequently, refugees who are trying to escape violence and conflict in Syria to find refuge in the Kurdistan region are no longer able to do so,” she said.

The only other border crossing, at Al Qaim in Iraq’s Anbar region, has been shut since October.

Those trying to flee to Turkey, meanwhile, appeared to be facing increasing difficulty en route to the border, Fleming said.

“Within Syria, those seeking to approach the border report controlled access,” she added, noting that UNHCR had been unable to verify the information directly.

The numbers of those who had arrived in Jordan, meanwhile, had slumped from 26,600 in the first half of May to just 4,323 over the period from May 27 to June 2, she said.

The agency also sounded the alarm over the situation in the besieged town of Qusayr, whose pre-war population was some 30,000.

Hundreds of Qusayr residents have managed to reach eastern Lebanon, while others are displaced inside Syria.

“Most of those who have fled so far are women and children. This is ominous, because they say it is unsafe for them to flee with men, who have a heightened risk of being arrested or killed at checkpoints along the way,” she said.

“Qusayr itself is described as a ghost town, heavily damaged, and filled with the sound of bombs. People are said to be hiding in bunkers or holes dug as shelters,” she added.

“It is imperative that people seeking a route out of Qusayr, and other unsafe locations, be allowed access to safe areas,” she insisted.

All told, 1.6 million Syrians have fled since the civil war began in 2011, mostly to neighbouring nations, while another 4.25 million have been displaced within the country.