, GENEVA, Sep 3 – Syria’s refugee crisis is one of the biggest tragedies of our times, the UN said Tuesday, with more than two million Syrians, half of them children, fleeing their war ravaged country and some 4.2 million displaced internally.
“There are no words to express this tragedy,” Antonio Guterres, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, told reporters in Geneva, adding that the exodus shows no sign of abating and risked destabilising the region.
He said the two million milestone which represents a ninefold increase in 12 months was not just an appalling statistic, but represents “two million individual stories. Two million people, many have lost their houses, members of their families, their possessions.”
On average, some 5,000 Syrians flee their country every day, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said.
Guterres said the majority of the refugees head to Lebanon and other neighbouring countries where concern is mounting of a spillover of the Syria conflict.
The flow of refugees has gathered momentum in recent weeks amid fears of Western military action against the Syrian regime over its alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians.
Guterres said with the number of displaced continuing to escalate, the Syria refugee crisis today is without parallel worldwide.
“At this particular moment it’s the highest number of displaced people anywhere in the world,” he said. “Syria has become the great tragedy of this century, a disgraceful humanitarian calamity with suffering and displacement unparallelled in recent history.”
He said while the first one million refugees were registered over a period of two years, the second million had fled in the past six months. Along with some 4.2 million internally displaced people, they represent nearly a third of Syria’s pre war population of 20.8 million.
Guterres said the crisis was having a “terrible impact in the societies and the countries that are hosting all of these refugees.”
By Tuesday, more than 720,000 Syrian refugees were registered or in the process of being registered in Lebanon, a country of some 4.5 million people, Guterres said.
“For a country like Lebanon, this is indeed an existential question,” he said.
An additional 515,000 refugees are in Jordan, 460,000 in Turkey, 168,000 in Iraq and 110,000 in Egypt, according to UN figures.
The influx is taking an enormous toll on the infrastructure, services and economies in these countries, and causing a spillover of the conflict, with pockets of violence erupting, Guterres pointed out.
“The risks of an explosion in the Middle East is growing by the day,” Guterres warned.
“If the situation continues to deteriorate at this rate, the number of refugees will only grow, and some neighbouring countries could be brought to the point of collapse,” said US film star Angelina Jolie, who is a UNHCR special envoy to Syria.
The countries in the region are bearing the brunt of the cost of the refugee crisis, while the international community has provided less than half of the $1.1 billion the UNHCR initially said it needed to help Syrian refugees this year.
Turkey has spent more than $1.5 billion on direct assistance to refugees only 10 percent of which had been covered by international funds, Guterres said.
He is set to meet in Geneva with ministers from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey on Wednesday in a bid to accelerate international support.
The United States is by far the biggest donor of humanitarian aid for the Syrian crisis, having already contributed nearly $230 million, according to the UNHCR.
Russia has contributed about $10 million and China $1.0 million, Guterres said, adding he planned a trip to China later this year to, among other things, urge the country to increase its aid.
The Syria conflict erupted in March 2011 and has escalated into a civil war that has killed more than 100,000 according to the United Nations.