More than 22,000 Iraqis have fled the violence in Syria for their home country in less than three weeks, joining over 12,000 Syrian refugees, a UN refugee agency official said on Tuesday.
“Since the 18th of July until yesterday (Monday), 22,300 Iraqi refugees have been registered” after having arrived from Syria, UNHCR Iraq representative Claire Bourgeois told a news conference in Baghdad.
She also said that as of August 6, 12,600 Syrians had fled to Iraq since the beginning of the year.
President Bashar al-Assad’s deadly crackdown on an uprising against his rule has sparked an exodus of Syrians to neighbouring countries.
“The problem of the Syrian refugees, of the (Iraqi) returnees, adds to the problem of the government of Iraq and the people of Iraq,” UN envoy to Iraq Martin Kobler told the news conference.
“As you know, we have … 1.3 million IDPs already in the country,” Kobler said, referring to internally displaced persons — Iraqis living in their country, but driven from their homes.
And the thousands of Iraqis who have returned from Syria in recent weeks may be only the beginning.
The UNHCR had registered 87,000 Iraqi refugees in Syria as of the end of May, Bourgeois said, adding: “We expect that about 50 percent of that caseload might return back to Iraq.”
The “87,000 are just a small number, a small percentage of the total Iraqi population in Syria,” she said, and it is not currently known how many of the 22,300 returnees were registered as refugees in Syria.
Bourgeois also said that Iraqi refugees who were seeking to be resettled from Syria to third countries would be able to continue the process despite returning to Iraq.
“Those who were already in the process of resettlement, if they approach the office of UNHCR here, we will continue to process their case,” she said.
Bourgeois noted that while this is not usually done, “in this circumstance, where the Iraqi refugees in Syria are fleeing for their own safety and security, we consider that we should not stop the process of resettlement.”