August 7, 2014 / 12:08 PM / 5 years ago

Thousands of Iraqis flee to Turkish border as Islamic State advances

DIYARBAKIR Turkey (Reuters) - Thousands of Iraqis, most of them ethnic minority Yazidis, have fled to the Turkish border to escape an advance by Islamic State fighters in northern Iraq, Turkish officials said on Thursday.

Around 150 Yazidis were placed in state residences in Turkey’s southeastern Sirnak province and around the nearby city of Batman after crossing the border at the Habur frontier gate late on Wednesday, the officials said.

“Those who have passports crossed the border, but thousands of people who don’t are waiting at the other side,” said Seyfettin Aydemir, mayor of Sirnak’s Silopi district.

“We’re in talks with regional lawmakers about the situation,” he said.

The Islamic State regards the Yazidis, who are followers of an ancient religion derived from Zoroastrianism and part of Iraq’s Kurdish minority, as “devil-worshippers”.

Some of the many thousands of Yazidis trapped by Islamic State fighters on Sinjar mountain in northeast Iraq have been rescued in the past 24 hours, a spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on Thursday.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey was providing intensive humanitarian aid to Iraq.

“Two days ago, a large aid package prepared by (Turkey’s disaster management agency) AFAD was thrown from Iraqi helicopters to Sinjar mountains from the air,” Davutoglu told LTV news channel on Thursday.

“A mood that suggests Turkey excludes Yazidis is being created, but the truth is to the contrary.”

Islamic State militants extended their gains in northern Iraq on Thursday, seizing more towns and strengthening their presence near the Kurdish region in an offensive that has alarmed Baghdad and regional powers.

Turkey, already housing more than a million refugees from the war in neighbouring Syria, is building a refugee camp in northern Iraq to try to provide aid on the Iraqi side of the border.

Reporting by Seyhmus Cakan; Writing by Ece Toksabay and Dasha Afanasieva; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Andrew Roche

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