The number of refugees fleeing Syria’s civil war has topped two million, the UN’s refugee agency says, in what it is calling the “great tragedy of this century”.
It represents a jump of almost 1.8 million people in 12 months and, with another 4.25 million displaced within the country, means the conflict has now forced around a third of the population from their homes.
The scale of the humanitarian crisis was revealed as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad warned that a western military strike in response to chemical weapons attacks could provoke a regional war.
“Syria is hemorrhaging women, children and men who cross borders often with little more than the clothes on their backs,” the UNHCR said in a statement.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres added: “Syria has become the great tragedy of this century – a disgraceful humanitarian calamity with suffering and displacement unparalleled in recent history.
“The only solace is the humanity shown by the neighbouring countries in welcoming and saving the lives of so many refugees.”
UNHCR special envoy Angelina Jolie said the world is “tragically disunited” on how to end the bloody conflict, which has so far cost more than 100,000 lives, but must do more to help its victims.
“The world risks being dangerously complacent about the Syrian humanitarian disaster,” the Hollywood actress said.
“The tide of human suffering unleashed by the conflict has catastrophic implications. If the situation continues to deteriorate at this rate, the number of refugees will only grow, and some neighbouring countries could be brought to the point of collapse.
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“The world is tragically disunited on how to end the Syria conflict. But there should be no disagreement over the need to alleviate human suffering, and no doubt of the world’s responsibility to do more.
“We have to support the millions of innocent people ripped from their homes, and increase the ability of neighbouring countries to cope with the influx.”
More than 97 per cent of Syria’s refugees are hosted by countries in the immediate surrounding region which urgently need massive international support to help them deal with the crisis, the agency said.
With an average of almost 5,000 Syrians fleeing into neighbouring countries every day, the need to increase significantly humanitarian aid and development support to host communities has reached a critical stage, it said.
Ministers from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey will hold a meeting with UNHCR in Geneva in a bid to accelerate international support.
The number of 2 million represents Syrians who have registered as refugees or who are pending registration. As of the end of August this comprised 110,000 in Egypt, 168,000 in Iraq, 515,000 in Jordan, 716,000 in Lebanon, and 460,000 in Turkey. Some 52 per cent are children aged 17 or under.
UNHCR announced on 23 August that the number of Syrian child refugees had exceeded 1 million.
A further 4.25 million people are displaced inside Syria, according to data on 27 August from the UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Taken together, these numbers – amounting to a total of more than 6 million people torn from their homes – mean more Syrians are forcibly displaced than is the case with any other country.
Justin Forsyth, Save the Children CEO, said: “More than half of them are children, many of whom have spent the weeks and months before they fled living under fire, without food and water, watching their friends and families being killed and maimed in a conflict that shows no sign of abating.
“The refugee crisis is growing faster than the world can address it.”
Oxfam’s Syria response campaign manager Claire Seaward said: “We are appalled that this landmark has been reached today.
“Enough is enough. A generation of Syrians is paying too high a price in this conflict. They have been seriously let down by the international community, which has failed to prioritise a political solution to the conflict. That must change.
“World leaders – especially President Obama and President Putin – must ensure the long-promised peace talks take place as soon as possible.
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“Every day more refugees cross the borders into neighbouring countries, often traumatised and in need of the basics – food, water and shelter. But the humanitarian response to the crisis is stretched to the limit.
“Donor countries must continue to dig deep and donate to the UN appeals that are still only 41 per cent funded.”
Foreign Secretary William Hague faces questions in the Commons on Tuesday over the UK’s response after Downing Street firmly played down the chances of a fresh bid to seek MPs’ approval for military action.