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Waiting game

September 2012

At a bare concrete building on the western edge of Iraq, hundreds of Syrian refugee families wait in the shade, anxious to find out where they will spend the night after fleeing their homeland.

Many of the men, women and children had come from the Syrian town of Albu Kamal and said Syrian rebel forces escorted them on the seven kilometre road to the main border gate with Iraq.

Albu Kamal was captured by rebel forces in July in a push to seize Syria’s international border crossings. Government forces wrested back control, firing shells and rockets on the town, they said.

“When we woke up there was shelling. When we went to sleep there was shelling,” 34-year-old Jamil Rafea al Mahmoud said as he waited for Iraqi border control to process his papers.

“I am very upset at leaving my house, my neighbourhood, my people, but what can I do? The Syrian people, we do not have anywhere to go but this safer place, Iraq,” he said, without a hint of irony.

That Syrians are willing to cross the border despite bomb attacks across Iraq shows just how bad the situation back home has become.

Syrian refugees entered the desert border crossing near the western Iraqi town of Al Qaim on pick-up trucks or on Iraqi government buses as part of a convoy.

They clambered down from vehicles into crowds of shouting soldiers and military trucks, and dragged their bags through the dust. Around 500 Syrians were already waiting at a camp for the refugees at the customs building, in an area surrounded by blast walls and coils of barbed wire.

“We left Albu Kamal because Bashar’s army slit throats and killed my relatives,” 49-year-old Nassra Abdul Hallim said, seated with a group of veiled women and children.

“We drove behind the Free Army to the border and they opened the road for us,” she said.

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