Thousands of Syrian refugees stream into IraqListen / Close to 20,000 Syrians have crossed the border into northern Iraq since Thursday last week, according to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).
Refugees interviewed by the agency said they were fleeing fighting involving various armed groups and increasing tension in areas of northern Syria including Efrin, Aleppo, Hassake and Qamishly.
UNHCR has sent 37 trucks loaded with relief items and is in the process of putting up temporary shelters to protect the fleeing Syrians from the sun and heat while they wait transport from the border to safer areas.
Adrian Edwards from UNHCR says this latest exodus of Syrians into northern Iraq is the single largest movement of refugees witnessed since the start of the Syrian crisis.
"The crossing points in this particular area have been closed since May. We saw some relaxation of that in July with small numbers of people being allowed to cross and these were family reunification and other urgent humanitarian cases, and then last week and this took us by surprise this sudden human river coming across. Enormous numbers with enormous needs. As of this morning our staff at the border are reporting hundreds of people gathered there. We are expecting to see further crossings today. There is a big aid operation underway to try and what can be done under the circumstances. But we have at the moment big needs for water, it's very hot there. We have needs for shelter, buses to transport people to safer areas."
Over 154,000 Syrians are registered as refugees in Iraq.
UNHCR says more than 1.9 million Syrian refugees are now hosted by neighbouring countries.
Patrick Maigua, United Nations Radio, Geneva.