Every 15 seconds, a Syrian becomes a refugee.
That’s the grim reality, according to the United Nations’ refugee agency, which said Tuesday that the number of Syrians who have fled their war-ravaged country has now risen above 2 million.
A year ago, that number was 230,671.
“Syria is haemorrhaging women, children and men who cross borders often with little more than the clothes on their backs,” the UNHCR said.
The increase of nearly 1.8 million people over the past 12 months is an “alarming” trend, the agency said, warning that there is “no sign of this tragic outflow ending.”
‘The great tragedy’
The U.N. has said that more than 100,000 people — including many civilians — have been killed in Syria since a popular uprising spiraled into a civil war in 2011.
“Syria has become the great tragedy of this century — a disgraceful humanitarian calamity with suffering and displacement unparalleled in recent history,” said Antonio Guterres, the U.N.’s high commissioner for refugees.
And there’s more somber news: another 4.25 million people are displaced inside Syria, the UNHCR said, meaning that more than 6 million people have been torn from their homes in the country.
“More Syrians are now forcibly displaced than is the case with any other country,” the agency said.
Neighbors under strain
The overwhelming majority of the refugees that leave Syria end up staying in countries in the surrounding region.
That places a heavy strain on the infrastructures, economies and societies of those host countries, the U.N. said.
The four biggest recipients of Syrians registered as refugees or awaiting registration are:
Lebanon — 716,000
Jordan — 515,000
Turkey — 460,000
Iraq — 168,000
Government ministers from those four countries will meet with the UNHCR in Geneva Wednesday in an effort to generate greater international support for dealing with the refugee exodus.
More than half of the 2 million Syrian refugees are children aged 17 or younger, the U.N. said.
True figure may be higher
The British Red Cross suggested that the U.N. figure for the total number of refugees may well be too conservative.
“To have reached this landmark figure of two million registered refugees is shocking, but the true figure is likely to be higher,” said Pete Garratt, a disaster manager for the British group. “We know there are people who will not have registered for support, for many reasons. They may be afraid of any form of authority or of registering their status.”
The organization said that in Jordan, 70% of refugees live in urban areas rather than in camps, which makes it harder for aid agencies to find and help them.
“Our colleagues from the Jordanian Red Crescent report finding families who have not registered, or are worried about coming forward to ask for support,” Garratt said. “They are still living with the psychological effects of having been in a conflict zone, and that makes people wary.”