More than 200,000 Syrians have fled into neighbouring countries during the conflict, already surpassing the UN’s expectation of 185,000 refugees by the end of the year.
The organisation says Turkey is seeing the biggest influx, while operations at the UN’s centre in Lebanon are being adversely affected by clashes between rival neighbourhoods in the Lebanese coastal city of Tripoli where the organisation has a newly established office.
The total number of refugees reflects an increase of some 30,000 in the last week alone in Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, but also takes into account a change in the way the agency counts those in Jordan, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.
“We are now at a much higher level of 202,512 refugees in the surrounding region,” Adrian Edwards told a news briefing in Geneva.
“The deteriorating security situation in Lebanon is hampering our work to help refugees fleeing Syria’s conflict, though operations are continuing.” Registration of those fleeing Syria for Lebanon is being affected by concerns over the kidnapping of some refugees.
The UN reported refugee numbers as follows:
Turkey – 74,000
Lebanon – 51,000
Iraq – 15,898
The UN says that a further 2,200 refugees crossed into Jordan overnight. It says local authorities in Turkey have told the UNHCR that seven new camps are being built which, together with the existing nine camps, will bring Turkey’s camp capacity to 130,000 people. Newly-arrived refugees are being billeted in boarding schools until places can be found for them in refugee camps.
In Iraq the organisation is planning to expand its reception camps by 230 tents in anticipation of a further influx.
President Assad‘s forceful response to unrest inspired by Arab uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere has spawned an armed insurrection and plunged Syria into a civil war in which over 18,000 people have been killed, according to a UN estimate.
Relief agencies are also reporting that a smaller number of people are returning to Syria.
The Red Cross told Channel 4 News that apart from the refugees who are escaping into neighbouring countries, many more Syrians have become internally displaced because they have been forced out of their home regions into other parts of Syria.
Through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, the Red Cross is providing emergency food and essentials for people displaced from rural Damascus.
There was no let-up in the violence on Friday, the Muslim holy day which has often been a focus for anti-Assad protests. The Syrian army pounded the Damascus suburb of Daraya, where the 21 deaths reported by opposition activists brought the toll from a three-day-old military assault to at least 70.
Restrictions on media reporting within Syria make it difficult to verify independently reports of casualties.