GENEVA: More than 2 million refugees have now fled Syria’s civil war in human suffering unparalleled in recent history, the United Nations said yesterday.
Of the total Syrian population of about 20 million, either inside or outside the country, one third is displaced and almost half is in need of assistance, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres told a news conference.
“What is appalling is that the first million fled Syria in two years. The second million fled Syria in six months,” he said.
The number of refugees stood at about 200,000 just a year ago, so the tide of men, women and children crossing borders has risen almost 10-fold over the past 12 months, figures from the UN refugee agency UNHCR showed.
“Syria has become the great tragedy of this century — a disgraceful humanitarian calamity with suffering and displacement unparalleled in recent history,” Guterres said.
“The only solace is the humanity shown by the neighbouring countries in welcoming and saving the lives of so many refugees.”
However, the number of refugees has grown more slowly than UNHCR once feared. It previously projected the total would hit 3.45m by the end of the year, based on border crossings in February-March that averaged about 8,000 per day.
So far in 2013, the daily figure has averaged between 5,000 and 6,000, which means the total is likely to be 2.6-2.7m by the end of the year, Guterres said.
The number of people displaced inside Syria is 4.25m, in line with a forecast made in June. The flow of Syrian refugees has piled pressure on neighbouring countries.
Guterres will meet the foreign ministers of Iraq, Jordan, and Turkey and the minister of social affairs of Lebanon — the four main hosts of Syrian refugees — in Geneva today to work out ways to raise more international aid.
UNHCR said last month its work had so far stopped the refugee crisis spiralling out of control. But “a far more substantial and coherent strategy” was needed than the $2.9bn refugee aid effort already underway, it said then.
The conflict has taken a heavy toll on Syria’s children, 39 percent of whom have dropped out of school in the past academic year, according to Unicef. More than 3,000 schools have been damaged or destroyed and almost 1,000 are being used to house displaced people. Sweden said it had decided to offer all Syrian refugees in the country permanent residency.