UN warns of ‘full-scale disaster’ as Syrian refugees reach one million

A line of Syrian refugee women, some carrying children, cross into Jordan from southern Syria. Photo: UNHCR/N. Daoud

6 March 2013 – One million Syrians have fled their homeland, the head of the United Nations refugee agency today said, warning that in the absence of a political solution, humanitarian workers need additional funds to help the refugees and support the countries hosting them.

“With a million people in flight, millions more displaced internally, and thousands of people continuing to cross the border every day, Syria is spiralling towards full-scale disaster,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, said in a press release.

“We are doing everything we can to help, but the international humanitarian response capacity is dangerously stretched. This tragedy has to be stopped.”

The number of refugees increased dramatically since the start of the year, with more than 400,000 people fleeing Syria to neighbouring countries – Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, and increasingly to North Africa and Europe, according to figures reported by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).

“This number translates into one million people who are dependent on the generosity of host countries, the response of humanitarian agencies and the financial support of governments and individuals,” said Mr. Guterres, who will be travelling to the region later this week to visit UNHCR operations in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon.

In Lebanon, the population has increased by as much as 10 per cent. Jordan’s energy, water, health and education services are being strained to the limit. Turkey has spent over $600 million setting up 17 refugee camps, with more under construction. Iraq, already stressed by a population of one million internally displaced persons (IDPs), received over 100,000 Syrian refugees in the past year.

“These countries should not only be recognized for their unstinting commitment to keeping their borders open for Syrian refugees, they should be massively supported as well,” Mr. Guterres noted.

Meanwhile, the UN Regional Response Plan for Syrian Refugees is approximately 25 per cent funded, UNHCR announced.

The plan was originally launched in March 2012 with plans for six-month assistance to 96,500 refugees. It was revised to $1 billion for the first half of 2013 for an expected 1.1 million refugees. UNHCR today announced that given the dramatic increase in the figures so far this year, it is now again revising the plan.

The Geneva-based agency said most of the refugees arrive traumatized, without possessions and having lost members of their families. Half of the refugees are children, the majority under the age of 11.


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