A human "river" of tens of thousands of Syrian Kurds has begun flowing into neighbouring Iraq to escape jihadist violence, United Nations officials warned yesterday.
The UN's refugee agency said that around 17,000 Syrian Kurds had come across the border since Friday, in what it described as a major exodus that was stretching the ability of Iraqi refugee camps to cope.
The Kurds, a minority group who make up around 10 per cent of Syria's population, have largely stayed out of the ongoing conflict, with government forces opting to withdraw entirely from Kurdish-dominated north-eastern Syria rather than fighting yet another front in the civil war.
Clashes have escalated in recent months between Kurdish militias and anti-government jihadist groups, for whom the Kurdish areas offer a conduit to fellow militants in Iraq.
An estimated 154,000 Syrian refugees are already registered in Iraq. The latest influx appears to have been caused by the building of a new pontoon bridge over the Tigris.
"UN refugee agency staff at Sahela report what appears like a river of people coming towards the border," said Claire Bourgeois, the UNHCR's Iraq representative, referring to a border crossing in north Iraq.
The UN said it was working to establish a camp to accommodate the new arrivals.