UN: More than half of Syrian civilians displaced by civil war

A new UN report states that more than half of civilians in Syria have either fled the country or been internally displaced by the civil war. Half of that number are children.

National Geographic:

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 António Guterres, the UNHCR's high commissioner, in a statement.

Between those who have fled the country and those who have been internally displaced, more than half of Syria's people have deserted their homes as warring separatist forces, including those from the Islamic State, battle each other and the government forces of Bashar al-Assad for control of vast swaths of territory. (Related: "Iraq: 1,200 Years of Turbulent History in Five Maps.")

More than one million people have fled the country in just the past 12 months, according to the UNHCR. And those are just the officially reported cases. The actual number may be higher than three million.

"This huge number reflects the extreme gravity of the situation," UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards, speaking from Geneva, told National Geographic. "There is currently no end in sight."

This is more than a humanitarian problem. Those millions of refugees are destablizing fragile countries like Lebanon and Jordan. The internally displaced  are showing up in small villages, straining the already damaged infrastructure to the breaking point. There are no schools for the children, little food, and virtually no medicine.

It's worse in the refugee camps - some of which are close to the Syrian border and harbor rebels. Assad's forces are not shy about lobbing artillery shells and rockets into these camps, killing hundreds.

Other highlights from the report:

Conditions in Syria are deteriorating quickly. There are "cities where populations are surrounded, people are going hungry and civilians are being targeted or indiscriminately killed," according to the report.

"This is not a bad but stable situation," says UNHCR's Edwards. "This is a bad and getting worse situation," with more than one million refugees registered this past year alone.

The numbers are growing by the day. Edwards, looking at his computer while speaking by phone to National Geographic on Friday, said his data showed that an additional 1,500 refugees had been registered just over the past 24 hours.


"Many people [are] forced to pay bribes at armed checkpoints proliferating along the borders," a UN statement said on Friday. "Refugees crossing the desert into eastern Jordan are being forced to pay smugglers hefty sums (U.S. $100 a head or more) to take them to safety."

Recent arrivals to Jordan, meanwhile, are running from attacks in the areas of Ar Raqqah and Aleppo.

There are indications that many are trying to flee Syria by boat.


The majority of refugees are seeking shelter in Lebanon (1.14 million), Turkey (815,000), and Jordan (608,000). But the report says that beyond the three million refugees registered since the start of the conflict, "governments estimate hundreds of thousands more Syrians have sought sanctuary in their countries."

This has led to an enormous strain on their economies, infrastructures, and resources.

Tiny Lebanon is already dealing with ISIS crossing their border, Syrian army incursions, and rebel firefights with Syrian soldiers taking place on their soil. The country is on the knife's edge of civil war as some factions supporting Assad and some, the rebels, clash in the streets.

Is the US doing enough? We could almost certainly do more, but that would encourage other countries not to do as much as they can. Collectively, the world should massively increase its efforts or an even more serious crisis will develop.

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