‘Thousands’ flee Syria into Iraq

Filed on July 19, 2012

Thousands of Iraqi families crossed from Syria back into their home country on Thursday after the government appealed for them to return to avoid escalating violence in Iraq’s western neighbour.

Officials said many of the families had been victims of attacks as they attempted to leave Syria, where a 17-month uprising has escalated following a bomb attack which killed three security chiefs in Damascus on Wednesday.

“Thousands of families arrived today at the border and entered Iraq,” Qassim Mohammed Abid, governor of the western Iraqi province of Anbar, told AFP.

“We have formed a crisis team to deal with the situation and we will send buses to take the families to the places they want to go.”

A security official at the Al-Waleed border post, which lies at the southern edge of Iraq’s border with Syria, said that “thousands” of Iraqis had crossed through on Thursday.

“The families that crossed the border were hit and assaulted, and they were forced to leave Syria,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Some of them were robbed by Syrian gunmen loyal to the regime.”

Iraq urged its citizens to leave strife-hit Syria on Tuesday and return home because of “increasing attacks” against them.

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said in late 2010 that about 1.5 million Iraqi refugees were in Syria but only around 150,000 were registered. The figure does not include those there for business or education.

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