(NEW YORK) — The United Nations is reporting that thousands of Syrian refugees are seeking shelter in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq.
According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, as many as 17,000 Syrians entered Iraq between last Thursday and Saturday, one of the largest influxes of people the country has dealt with during the 29-month-long conflict across the border.
One of the major reasons for the sudden wave of refugees is a spike in aggression against Syrian Kurds by militant groups with ties to al Qaeda and other radical Islamist organizations. The Kurds, who live primarily in northern Syria, make up 10 percent of the population.
The charity Save the Children, which is helping to bring relief supplies to the refugees, says “the main concern is that so many of them are stuck out in the open at the border or in emergency reception areas with limited, if any, access to basic services.” At least half of the new influx of Syrians are children.
The U.N. estimates there are now 150,000 Syrian refugees in Iraq, with as many as two million having fled the civil war since March 2011.
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Georgia McCafferty and Junko Ogura, CNN
Ralph Ellis and Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN