Syria conflict: UN says more than 3m have fled war

Jim Muir reports from a refugee camp in Northern Iraq

More than three million Syrians are now registered as refugees and the desperate crisis is only getting worse, the UN's refugee agency says.

The UNHCR says Syria is now "the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era" with almost half of all Syrians forced to flee their homes.

The majority of refugees have fled to countries neighbouring Syria, with most now seeking shelter in Lebanon.

More than 190,000 have been killed in Syria's three-year civil war.

Opposition groups in Syria have been fighting forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad since his government violently suppressed protests against his rule in March 2011.

The situation has been worsened in recent months by the formation and advance of the Islamic State group, which now controls large swathes of Syria and Iraq.

'Exhausted and scared'

The UNHCR says one in every eight Syrians has fled across the border and a further 6.5 million are displaced within Syria. It says more than half of those uprooted are children.

The number of registered Syrian refugees has soared from two million just under a year ago.

Families arriving at refugee camps in neighbouring countries are exhausted and scared, with some having spent a year or more fleeing from village to village inside Syria.

The UN agency says the journey out of Syria is also becoming tougher, with many people forced to pay bribes to armed gangs.

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Where Syrian refugees are
Aysha, 5, stands outside an abandoned building in Istanbul that has been her home for half a year Aysha, 5, stands outside an abandoned building in Istanbul, Turkey, that has been her home for half a year

1,175,504 in Lebanon

832,508 in Turkey

613,252 in Jordan

215,369 in Iraq

139,090 in Egypt

23,367 in North Africa

6.5 million others are displaced within Syria

Source: UNHCR

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An aerial view shows the Zaatari refugee camp, near the Jordanian city of Mafraq - 18 July 2013 Thousands of Syria refugees have ended up at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan since fleeing the civil war

In addition to the registered refugees, Syria's neighbours estimate that hundreds of thousands more Syrians have sought sanctuary in their countries - causing enormous strain.

"The Syrian crisis has become the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era, yet the world is failing to meet the needs of refugees and the countries hosting them," said Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

"The response to the Syrian crisis has been generous, but the bitter truth is that it falls far short of what's needed."

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The response to the Syrian crisis has been generous, but the bitter truth is that it falls far short of what's needed”

End Quote Antonio Guterres UN High Commissioner for Refugees
'Violence at a new level'

On Thursday, French President Francois Hollande voiced his regret that the West had failed "to find a solution for the situation in Syria," saying the consequences were clear to all.

"Bashar al-Assad's regime continues without restraint its policy of repression. Refugees continue to gather, their numbers increasing every day, in the neighbouring countries. And terrorist groups are winning more territory - that's the result," he said.

The UN's deputy humanitarian chief, Kyung-wha Kang, said Islamic State was taking violence against civilians in Syria "to a new level" and threatening aid operations in the country.

But US President Barack Obama insisted Thursday that the West would not contemplate working with President Assad against the extremist group.

"I don't think there's a situation where we have to choose between Assad or the kinds of people who carry on the incredible violence that we've been seeing there," he told reporters at the White House.

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