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January 21, 2013
SHILAKAY, IRAQ — The ongoing conflict in Syria has led to chronic fuel and food shortages. Thousands of desperate Syrians are carrying goods across an unofficial border
Syrian men, bent double under the weight of their sacks, begin the four-hour trek from Iraqi Kurdistan back to Syria.
Every day more than 3,000 men make this journey into northern Iraq to get essentials such as food and gasoline for their families back home.
Ali Muhammad Bedawi, 22, made a trip from Aleppo for macaroni and diapers. The journey took 14 hours.
"There's no bread. There's no food. There's no gas. No fuel," he said. "People are starving.
Only a very few see this as a business opportunity. A liter of gasoline purchased in Iraq for one dollar will sell in Syria for a mere 50-cent markup.
"We don't sell the kerosene because we need at home," said fuel vendor Hussam Moussa. "We only sell the gasoline.
The unofficial crossing has been opened by the semi-autonomous Kurdish government in northern Iraq without the permission of the central government in Baghdad.
Kurdish officials say their own history of suffering gives them responsibility to help Syrian Kurds.
"The Kurds of Iraq have taken lessons and have gone through those stages of history and I think that both the public itself and the administration itself in the KRG feel that it is a responsibility to act and to support and to provide assistance because we went through and we know how tough and how difficult it is," said Dr. Dindar Zebari, who is with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Department of Foreign Relations.
As the sun begins to set, a few remaining stragglers rush to leave Iraq. And with the conflict in Syria showing little signs of ending, cross-border traffic is unlikely to ease.