Syria conflict: Refugees number a million, says UN

 

One Syrian refugee who said she was 105 years old told the BBC's Fergal Keane she "just wanted to die"

The number of Syrian refugees who have fled the conflict has reached a million, the UN has said.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the number of people seeking haven in neighbouring countries had jumped since the beginning of the year.

Half of the refugees were children, the UN said, most of them under 11 and often traumatised by their experiences.

The largest numbers of refugees were seeking shelter in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.

The figure includes registered refugees and newer arrivals awaiting registration.

"Syria is spiralling towards full-scale disaster," the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said in a statement, warning that the international humanitarian response capacity was "dangerously stretched".

"This tragedy has to be stopped," he added, warning that the influx of people had also stretched the resources of Syria's neighbours.

The millionth refugee recorded by UNHCR was a 19-year-old mother of two called Bushra.

"Our situation is so bad, everything is so expensive, we can't find any work... The situation is so bad, I live with 20 other people in one room," Bushra told reporters in the Lebanese city of Tripoli.

'Tremendous burden'

Many of those who have fled conflict now live in difficult conditions, with poor sanitation and insufficient resources to cope with the harsh winters.

At the scene

Some 2,000 refugees crossed into Jordan from Syria in the past 24 hours. Many were brought to the large tent for new arrivals just inside the Zaatari camp. They could be seen lying sprawled, exhausted and dishevelled, on mats and blankets laid on the floor.

"We came because of the shelling and air strikes. They destroyed our houses, they left nothing for us," said an old woman from Homs. "It took us nearly five days to get here walking through fields."

A young mother told us how Syrian forces had shot at them as they tried to leave. "We were so afraid we had an accident on the road. We thought we were going to die," she said.

By late afternoon, the refugees were registered by the UNHCR and had moved to their own basic shelters. But officials here say the increasing flow of refugees threatens to overwhelm them.

"The international community is failing to find a political solution inside Syria and so people are continuing to flee," says Andrew Harper, head of UNHCR in Jordan. "We'll probably have another 100,000 people arrive in the next four or five weeks."

In Lebanon, for example, the influx of almost a third of a million refugees since last February has swollen the country's population by 10%.

Turkey, providing a temporary home for some 184,000 refugees, has spent more than $600m (459m euros; £396m) setting up 17 refugee camps, and is building new ones to meet the increasing need, the UN said.

"These countries should not only be recognised for their unstinting commitment to keeping their borders open for Syrian refugees, they should be massively supported as well," Mr Guterres said.

On Tuesday, Jordan's King Abdullah called on world nations to help his country, Turkey and Lebanon to shoulder "the tremendous burden" of caring for the huge influx of people.

'Catastrophic proportions'

UK charity Oxfam says that only 20% of $1.5bn promised by international donors in January has arrived, "leaving agencies struggling to respond to the urgent needs of refugees".

The rush of refugees has surprised even UN experts, who had originally estimated that the one million figure would not be reached until the end of June 2013.

In effect, more than 400,000 have became refugees since 1 January 2013.

The UN's emergency response plan for Syrian refugees, Oxfam said, currently lacked 75% of the funding required.

The BBC's Nik Gowing reports as Bushra, 19, registers as the millionth refugee

Jordan's Petra news agency said that a total of 2,257 Syrian refugees had crossed into the country on Tuesday alone.

Some 110,000 of those who have sought shelter in Jordan are living in the desert camp of Zaatari, near its northern border with Syria.

The conflict in Syria began almost two years ago with demonstrations against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

The protests quickly turned violent as opponents of Mr Assad took up arms to try to resist a brutal crackdown by the authorities.

The conflict has left more than 70,000 people dead and two million internally displaced, of a pre-conflict population of 20.7 million.

Also on Wednesday, the Commander of the rebel Free Syrian Army, Gen Selim Idriss, called for the lifting of the EU arms embargo against Syria, saying it is having a much more negative effect on the opposition than on the Assad regime.

Gen Idriss told the BBC's Chris Morris in Brussels that opposition forces desperately needed weapons and ammunition, and that the war would be longer and bloodier if the embargo remained in place.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Wednesday that the UK was going to provide armoured vehicles and body armour to Syrian opposition forces in a bid to end a crisis that had reached what he called "catastrophic proportions".

His announcement in the House of Commons stopped short of arming the rebels, but he told the BBC on Sunday that the UK would not rule out doing so in future.

In a separate development, Arab League foreign ministers invited the Syrian main opposition to take the country's seat at the league.

The ministers asked the Syrian National Coalition to send its representative to the group's meeting in Doha later this month.

The 22-member league suspended Syria's membership in 2011.

Map of refugee camps around Syria and breakdown of the refugees by country. Total as of 6 March 2013: 1,000,669
 

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 29.

    If 1m of UK citizens needed aid, we would pay for it - why not Syria's (recognised) Government? If they have money fight the insurrection - they should buy humanitarian aid for their displaced citizens - but by their actions the Syrian Government seems to be abandoning those who are displaced (not all of whom will necessarily be dissenters) yet lay claim to the whole territory!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 28.

    Admirable response from Syria's neighbours, who have not turned their backs on these desperate people. It is good that the UK is donating money to help these poor children, but how much longer is this going to on for?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 27.

    Anyone who unleashes Scud missiles indiscriminately on his own country has lost the plot. Unfortuantely the west burnt its fingers in Iraq el al and is reluctant to become involved. The US onder BMO shows no leadership and the UN can only pontificate - time for new smoke signals I think.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 26.

    The international community needs to enforce a ceasefire in Syria immediately. Neither Assad's thugs nor the 'opposition' hoodlums have any place in civilised society, and should be disarmed. Those who are suspected of committing atrocities should be brought to justice. Then Syria can be assisted to hold a free election so the citizens of Syria can decide who they want to run the country for them.

  • Comment number 25.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 24.

    Both sides in this conflict are as bad as each other. By taking sides "we" are as bad as them.

    It disgusts me that Hague dare say that he speaks for the people of this country when he offers those terrorists aid.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 23.

    @8
    Strong words......

    But when I think about it, we're about the only country who'd take them in, which is why we get so many illegals.
    I have no issue in helping people in hard times, but it sends a message to the world that we'll let anyone in....... And to the extremists it just looks like we're interfering AGAIN.

    There are hundreds of Syria's all over the world, we cant help them all!!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 22.

    If we really cared about the people we would enforce a ceasefire. As it is the political goal of topling Assad may still be possible so the fighting continues.

  • rate this
    +26

    Comment number 21.

    All we should be doing here is sending Humanitarian aid.
    Not proving one side or the other with arms to inflict more chaos on the poor devils caught in between.

  • rate this
    +16

    Comment number 20.

    In a few years time when these 'freedom fighters' with the wests support take over the country will it be the peace loving utopia ??

    NOT A CHANCE

    Ref - Libya , Iraq , Tunisia

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 19.

    If the Govt really must spend UK money on aid they could do no better than help the refugees outside of Syria

    It's obscene that they are willing to divert funds to opposition/freedom fighters/terrorists/rent-a-jihadists (delete as applicable) instead

    How about getting everyone around a table to come up with a solution? Oh, sorry, too much cash to be made by their chums in arms industry?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 18.

    9. Bruxical wrote: "As appalling as this conflict is,it's non of our business."

    ###

    Turn your back on the world, clasp your hands over your ears, blind yourself so you cannot see the death of those you don't know.

    Any one who can turn away so easily, defiles the idea of being a citizen of this very small world.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 17.

    Why is the BBC so obsessed with what happens in Syria?

    It is none of our business.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 16.

    Hope they have been warned not to go to the Iraq border.

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 15.

    While the human cost of this conflict has been disturbing, I do not see what justification there is for arming the rebels more than Assad.

    Both groups have been equally responsible for the dire situation, and when you look at what each wants, neither the rebels or Assad present a convincing case for their right to power.

    Western aid should be humanitarian only, neither side should be given arms.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 14.

    So that will be another 1 million people claiming benefits in the UK in the near future.
    -
    What's it like staring up at the gutter?

    There is a horrible retrograde trend in this country towards rampant xenophobia fronted by a charismatic leader in times of economic difficulty.

    Didn't work out very well in Germany did it?

  • rate this
    +21

    Comment number 13.

    Unfortunately, the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan were portrayed as nasty white Christian countries “invading” Muslim countries. It now means the west cannot step foot in a country like the Syria no matter how many are being slaughtered. We have done our bit, it’s time for countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Muslim countries to look after their own regional problems.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 12.

    8.Half Pint Bob


    Every come across a concept called "evidence"?

    It is what ratioal thinking people use to judge situations before spouting off about them.....

    ....because it saves them making themselves look like complete [insert insulting adjective of choice].........

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 11.

    When will humanity learn? Never me things....

  • rate this
    +27

    Comment number 10.

    A million people's lives turned upside down; at least a generation of innocent people doomed to a struggle of a life to feed the egos of a handful of politicians.

    The overwhelming majority of these people couldn't give a monkeys who is in charge and what their religion or politics may be if they'd just be allowed to get on with their lives in peace.

    Will we humans ever learn? I doubt it.

 

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