Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
ERBIL, Iraq, 2014 (UNHCR) - Thousands of people have managed to reach northern Iraq's Kurdistan region via Syria over the past three days after escaping from Mount Sinjar, where they faced starvation, lack of water, and threats to their safety.
The UN refugee agency said on Tuesday that its NGO partners estimated that as many as 35,000 people had managed to reach Iraqi Kurdistan's Dohuk governorate. "The new arrivals are exhausted, dehydrated and many have suffered sun or heat stroke, with the daily temperatures reaching 40 to 45 degrees Celsius," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said in Geneva.
People are moving to places such as Zakho and Dohuk town, where 16 school buildings have been made available. Food, water and medical care are being provided. As of now, an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people remain trapped on Sinjar Mountain without food, water or shelter. Access to these families is extremely limited.
According to the mayor of Zakho, his city of 350,000 people located just a few kilometres from the Turkish border, is hosting some 100,000 displaced people, mainly from Sinjar and Zumar, who have fled there over the past week. The local authorities have opened schools and community buildings to house the displaced, who are also taking shelter under bridges and in unfinished buildings.
Dohuk governorate is now hosting close to 400,000 displaced Iraqis, including Yazidis, Christians, Shabak, Kakai, Armenian and Turkmen minorities - some of whom have endured repeated displacement.
"Many are now in the towns of Khanke, Shariya, Zahko, Shekhan and in and around Dohuk town. They are scattered across hundreds of sites. Some are staying with relatives, others are in schools, churches, mosques, parks and shells of apartment buildings without water or electricity," Edwards said.
He added that UNHCR was distributing mattresses, blankets, emergency relief kits, household items and hygiene kits to locations in Dohuk, Zakho and elsewhere. "We are also witnessing enormous generosity by the local community who are spontaneously handing out aid," Edwards noted.
Between 7,000 to 10,000 people are staying at the Bajet Kandela camp - a former reception centre for Syrian refugees, most of whom passed through there two years ago after crossing the border at Peshkhabour. While basic facilities are in place, conditions are crowded and local NGOs have been installing family tents wherever space could be found. Site preparations have been completed to extend the camp, and another 5,000 tents are being added to the camp, which has water, electricity, and other essential infrastructure.
Three more camps are being planned in Dohuk governorate at Zakho, Shariya and Khanke. The Turkish government is expected to being work on the Zakho and Shariya camps soon, while site preparation for Khanke has started with UNHCR technical help and construction is expected to begin next week.
In all, there are more than 1.2 million internally displaced people in Iraq, including an estimated 700,000 in the Kurdistan region, which already hosts some 220,000 Syrian refugees.
Meanwhile, another 10,000 to 15,000 Yazidi Iraqis fleeing Sinjar have arrived in Syria. Most are staying in the Newroz camp near Al Qamishli, run by local NGOs. Other refugees are scattered among various Yazidi villages in Qahtania or urban areas.
"UNCHR teams from our Qamishli field office in Syria carried out an assessment mission to Qahtania on Saturday, and provided aid to hundreds of families staying in three villages and a local school. We also distributed tents, hygiene kits, sleeping mats, and other relief items to refugees staying in the Newroz camp which is now overcrowded with people - hundreds are sleeping in the open and more shelter and food aid is needed urgently," spokesman Edwards said in Geneva.
Both refugees and local communities report that more refugees are on the way. UNHCR field teams report seeing local people from nearby villagers distributing water and basic foods to the refugees on their journey.