UK & World News
Syria: Fears Over Refugee 'Major Exodus'
Thousands of Syrian refugees have been streaming over the border into Iraqi Kurdistan, the UN refugee agency has said.
Up to 10,000 people - mainly women, children and the elderly - crossed on Saturday, days after 7,000 fled a deteriorating security situation in north eastern parts of Syria.
The latest refugees have been taking advantage of a new pontoon bridge over the River Tigris - with Save the Children claiming the aid effort has been "overwhelmed" by the sheer numbers.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says the movement is one of the single biggest waves of refugees it has faced since the uprising against President Bashar al Assad started in March 2011.
The agency's Iraq representative Claire Bourgeois said: "UNHCR is witnessing a major exodus from Syria over the past few days unlike anything we have witnessed entering Iraq previously."
Abdulkarim Brendar, who trekked to the border with his five children, told AFP: "There was war and looting and problems. We did not find a morsel (of food), so with our children we came here."
Save the Children said around 7,000 refugees have been taken to an emergency camp, but thousands are still waiting to be registered at the border in temperatures of up to 40C.
The charity has launched an emergency response to deal with the stranded families and expects to distribute more than 40 litres of water in the coming days.
Save the Children's emergency team leader Alan Paul said: "This is an unprecedented influx of refugees, and 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.
"The refugee response in Iraq is already thinly stretched, and close to half of the refugees are children who have experienced things no child should. We urgently need to cover their basic needs- food, water and shelter."
The flood of refugees came as UN chemical weapons inspectors arrived in Damascus to start a mission that has been delayed several times.
Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad vowed that Syria will "fully cooperate" with the team led by Swedish expert Ake Sellstrom, who were flanked by a 20-strong security team as they arrived at their five star hotel.
The UN team's mission will be limited to investigating the alleged use of chemical weapons in three areas, in particular the March 19 attack in the Aleppo suburb of Khan al Assal, which Mr Assad blames on rebels.
Mr Assad's government and the rebels each say the other side has used chemical weapons during the 28 month conflict.