Iraq’s government has continued to support the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose Allawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, is allied with Iraq’s Shiite-led government. The vast majority of those fleeing Syria are Sunni Muslims.
“The Iraqi government has prepared a camp for 5,000 families near the Syrian border in Anbar province. Right now, 3,500 Syrian families are residing there. Our engineers are also working on a new camp that fits 5,000 more families,” said Salam al Khafaji, the deputy minister of Iraq’s Ministry of Migration and Displacement.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has begun initial assessments of the situation for Syrian refugees in Iraq, registering more than 15,000 of them as of Friday. The agency has said there are more than 150,000 Syrian refugees in Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, though the number that have fled to those countries almost certainly is higher, as many do not register with the U.N. either because they don’t need assistance or they are afraid of identifying themselves.
Despite Iraqi policy to turn back would-be refugees, thousands have made the crossing, especially from Syria’s majority Kurdish province of Hasaka to Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish north, where they are granted six-month visas and allowed to live where they wish.
“Sometimes there are names of wanted people,” Khafaji said, explaining the tightening of border procedures. “Otherwise there are no problems regarding receiving more refuges in any of the Iraqi borders with Syria.”
McClatchy special correspondents Abdulla Hawez in Irbil, Iraq, and Dan Smith in al Qaim, Iraq, contributed.