Syrian refugees: now one million

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – It’s a landmark number, but no one is cheering: the civil war in Syria has now created one million refugees, according to the UN’s refugee organization in Geneva, the UNHCR. The number has increased dramatically in the nine weeks since the start of 2013: more than 400,000.

“They arrive traumatized, without possessions and having lost members of their families.  Around half of the refugees are children, the majority under the age of 11, the UNHCR says in a statement Wednesday morning 6 March. “Most have fled to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. Increasingly, Syrians are also fleeing to North Africa and Europe.”

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres says the country is spiraling towards full-scale disaster. “We are doing everything we can to help, but the international humanitarian response capacity is dangerously stretched. This tragedy has to be stopped.”

The organization’s own funding is desperately short of its goal, with only 25 percent funding and the flood of refugees growing far faster than expected.

Neighbouring countries are feeling the impact: “Lebanon’s 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 US$600 million setting up 17 refugee camps, with more under construction. Iraq, juggling its own crisis with more than one million Iraqis internally displaced, has received over 100,000 Syrian refugees in the past year,” the UNHCR statement notes.

Guterres insists that “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.”