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UN says Syria refugees top 2 million mark

GENEVA – The civil war in Syria has forced over 2 million people out of the country and over 4 million others are displaced within its borders, making Syrians the nation with the largest number of people torn from their homes, U.N. officials said Tuesday.

“Syria has become the great tragedy of this century – a disgraceful humanitarian calamity with suffering and displacement unparalleled in recent history,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said, speaking about the impact of the civil war, which began as a rebellion against President Bashar Assad’s regime in March 2011. “The only solace is the humanity shown by the neighboring countries in welcoming and saving the lives of so many refugees.”

Almost 5,000 citizens a day on average are flowing out of Syria, many of them with little more than the clothes they are wearing, Guterres said. What’s particularly alarming, he added, is that the number of refugees has surged by 1.8 million in just 12 months – up from almost 231,000 a year ago.

More than 97 per cent of Syria’s refugees are hosted by countries in the immediate surrounding region, which is overwhelming their infrastructures, economies and societies and making them in need of urgent outside help, the U.N. refugee agency said in a statement.

As of the end of August, the agency counted 716,000 refugees in Lebanon, 515,000 in Jordan, 460,000 in Turkey, 168,000 in Iraq and 110,000 in Egypt. It said over half of them were children.

Guterres said in a statement that the U.N. refugee agency has now counted more than 2 million refugees who have fled Syria’s violence. Another 4.25 million people have been displaced within Syria, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Ministers from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey were planning to meet with Guterres on Tuesday in Geneva in an effort to gain greater international support.

“If the situation continues to deteriorate at this rate,” said the U.N. special envoy for refugees, actress Angelina Jolie, “the number of refugees will only grow, and some neighboring countries could be brought to the point of collapse.”