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Crossing the River Tigris: The ferry to freedom for Syrian Kurds

Syrian Kurds cross the River Tigris to seek a new life Photo: ITV News

ITV News International Correspondent John Irvine reports from Syria on the increasing numbers of Syrian Kurds seeking refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan.

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**After waiting for a week on the west bank of the Tigris it took Mohammed and his family just a minute to cross the river on board what has been a ferry to freedom for thousands of Syrian Kurds.

In north-eastern Syria the great river is the border with Iraq and the short boat ride brings salvation for those fleeing the war.

Mohammed has a wife and two young daughters. He told us that the fighting around his village was so bad he had to leave and try to make it into Iraq. He says he never wants to go back.

The exodus over the Tigris has been happening for months. More than 200,000 refugees have come across.

The manner of their flight is a perfect example of the disintegration of the Middle East as we knew it.

At this point on the map the River Tigris may officially be the frontier between Syria and Iraq, but the governments in both Damascus and Baghdad have zero control over the border nor any sway over who or what crosses it.

Belongings are carried by Syrian Kurds as they arrive at the other side of the crossing. Credit: ITV News

The refugees are Syrian Kurds being allowed into Iraqi Kurdistan, where they are well cared for by their ethnic brethren who are in control here.

The Iraqi Kurds know all too well what it is to flee a war. In the winter of 1991, thousands of them took refuge in the freezing mountains on the Turkish border.

Saddam Hussein’s army was rampaging north to punish the Kurds for daring to challenge his authority. Many people perished in the cold.

Almost a generation later Iraqi Kurdistan is prospering. It’s a semi-autonomous region rich in oil, which, much to the annoyance of Baghdad, they sell independently.

This has fuelled rapid economic growth. Syrian Kurds are benefitting from that too for there is work for them.

The Domiz refugee camp near Duhok is, in the circumstances, a remarkably happy place. The Syrian Kurds who live there are allowed in and out and have integrated well with their Iraqi Kurd hosts.

Syrian refugee children play at the Domiz refugee camp in the northern Iraqi province of Dohuk, Credit: Reuters

A young man who teaches English said that he and his wife were content. They married three months ago and had built house in the camp.

Bricks and mortar have replaced canvas in Domiz and the place has an air of permanence. It looks like a new town in what could eventually become a new country.