Thousands of refugees from north east Syria have been fleeing for safety into the Kurdish region of Iraq, with numbers increasing as a ceasefire brokered by the United States came to an end tonight.

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) says more than 7,140 Syrians have crossed into Iraq since Turkey started its military operation earlier this month, displacing around 165,000.

In the last 24 hours alone, around 1,736 refugees crossed into Iraq, according to Kurdish authorities. It is the highest number to cross in one day, since the beginning of the military operation.

The newly arrived refugees told the NRC that many more are hoping to make the crossing, but are unable to do so.

"People are so scared about the situation; more arrive every day because they don't know what is going to happen with Turkey, and also with ISIS," said Ghada, 23, from Hassakah, who is now living in Bardarash Camp since she crossed there two days ago.

However she warned that only those who have money are successfully making the crossing.

"People have to pay a lot of money, sometimes $500 per person. The poor people can't cross and are stuck in Syria, they will not be able to escape."

Another refugee from Qamishli described the ordeal of escaping in the dead of the night with her husband and three daughters.

"There were dead bodies on the street," said Rifaa. "We found a smuggler to bring us to Kurdistan and we gave them the amount of money they asked to save ourselves. We paid $2,000 for five people. We saved our lives but we suffered.

"We're seeing hundreds arriving into Iraq every day and we expect more to arrive, not only because of the fighting, but also because of the fear of what is going to happen next," said NRC's Iraq Country Director Rishana Haniffa.

"Syrians who wish to cross to safety in Iraq must be allowed to do so, without any delay."

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Others have yet to make the journey across the border into Iraq.

After they were made homeless when Turkish shells slammed into their house in Ras al-Ain in northern Syria, Kurdish day labourer Suleiman Mohamed and his family have spent the last 10 days in desperate search of shelter nearby.

Now all they want is to reach neighbouring Iraq, but they say there are stuck. The Kurdish force controlling the area was only letting through the wounded, not families in general.

"Our house is gone," said the 40-year old, standing next to his wife and two young children.

"Smugglers take $500 which I cannot pay. I'm ready to go anywhere, Europe, abroad. We don't have a place to stay here anymore."

'Our future is gone'

Syrian Kurds on the Iraqi side have said passage was being made difficult by the YPG Kurdish militia, the main component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is still largely in control of areas in the northeast it has administered for years.

Authorities have kept the border crossing open for humanitarian shipments, trade, diplomats and journalists, but when the offensive started they stopped private trips to visit relatives on the other side of the border, said Kamiran Hassan, head of the local Kurdish immigration and passport department.

"We took the measure to avoid a crisis among travellers, to avoid the crossing getting too busy," he said, adding that the border would be reopened again for families at some point.

A 39-year old man who gave his name as Fuad said he was travelling with his wife and two sons.

"What should I do?" he said. "We want to escape, but where should we go? We don't have a solution, where should we go? Nothing is left.".

"I have no idea where we will go. Our future is gone," said 24-year old Zainab Rassul, sitting next to her mother in the dust of an unpaved road next to the border.

"I'm in my final year of studies of Arabic language but I don't think I will be able to complete my studies," she said."

Turkish-Russia talks

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan today threatened to restart the Syrian offensive unless Kurdish fighters withdraw from the Syrian border with Turkey before the ceasefire ends.

Following a deal with US Vice President Mike Pence last week, Turkey announced a 120-hour pause in the offensive which began on Thursday. French efforts to extend the ceasefire have been rejected.

Speaking to reporters in Ankara, on his way to a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mr Erdogan said: "If the promises given to our country by the United States are not kept, we will continue our operation from where we left off with greater determination."

He warned that up to 1,300 militia members from the People's Protection Units (YPG) had still to pull back.

Russia has been a key ally of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and has demanded that Turkey respect the country's territorial integrity. As US troops began to withdraw last week, Russian forces moved in to support the Syrian army whose help against Turkey was requested by the Kurds.

Despite being on opposite sides of the Syria conflict, both Russia and Turkey have said they are working together to find a solution to the war.

Sitting down with President Erdogan for talks, President Putin said he believed the ties between the two countries "will let us find an answer to even the most difficult questions."

Mr al-Assad said today that defeating jihadists in Idlib would be the key to ending the country's eight years of civil conflict. Visiting troops on the frontline, he said "The battle of Idlib is the basis for resolving chaos and terroirsm in all other areas of Syria."

The Norwegian Refugee Council says the situation in the region remains too volatile for many international aid agencies to resume some of the humanitarian services they used to provide in Syria before this recent escalation of violence.

In Iraq, the UN and aid agencies are planning for up to 50,000 Syrians who might cross into from Syria in the coming months.

The NRC says it is providing drinking water at the border to those who manage to cross, and it is working on setting up child-friendly spaces in the coming days in Bardarash Camp, where more than 6,900 new refugees are hosted.

Additional reporting Reuters & AFP