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World >

Crisis escalates as Syrian refugees top three million

Madeleine Davies

by Madeleine Davies

Posted: 05 Sep 2014 @ 12:29


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Fresh: a refugee from Homs enjoys access to water, thanks to the WASH project implemented by World Vision


Fresh: a refugee from Homs enjoys access to water, thanks to the WASH project implemented by World Vision

THE number of Syrian refugees has passed three million, the United Nations reported last week, amid reports of "horrifying conditions" inside the country.

The United Nations's refugee agency UNHCR reported that families were arriving in a "shocking state". Most had been on the run for a year or more, fleeing from village to village before escaping across borders.

The statement, issued on Friday, said that leaving Syria was becoming harder: "Many people [are] forced to pay bribes at armed checkpoints proliferating along the borders. Refugees crossing the desert into eastern Jordan are being forced to pay smugglers hefty sums (US$100 a head or more) to take them to safety."

Including the 6.5 million people displaced within Syria, almost half of the population have been forced to leave their homes. Aid agencies are warning that the exodus is putting a huge strain on host countries. There are now 1.4 million refugees in Lebanon, 608,000 in Jordan, and 815,000 in Turkey.

On Monday, the regional communications director for World Vision's Syrian crisis, Meg Sattler, warned of a "desperate" situation.

"Rather than showing any signs of stopping, the conflict is getting worse," she said. "The rate of displacement continues to happen at about 100,000 people per month leaving the country. Countries like Lebanon and Jordan have been extremely welcoming, and have continued to open up homes and schools. Now, people have been there for so long, and people are continuing to come at such an alarming rate, countries are completely overstretched and need a lot of assistance."

The latest figures from the UN suggest that the crisis appeal for Syria is only 40-per-cent funded.

Ms Sattler warned that the situation was compounded by the displacement of two million people within Iraq, and by the onset of winter.

"Last winter was very cold. . . It becomes more and more miserable as winter sets in," she said. "We are doing what we can. We distributed warm winter coats for children, heaters, blankets . . . but at the end of the day it's not sustainable to do that every year."

World Vision is working across the region, providing water and sanitation, cooking sets and food, drainage and roadworks, and child protection and education services. It is urgently in need of more funds, Ms Sattler said.

On Friday, the UN high commissioner for refugees, António Guterres, described the Syrian crisis as "the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era, yet the world is failing to meet the needs of refugees and the countries hosting them."

The chief executive of the Refugee Council, Maurice Wren, said: "Despite all its compassionate words, the UK has resettled just 50 refugees from Syria, and appears content to keep the number low in the future. That is an affront to our long and proud tradition of offering protection to those who desperately need it. The Government must urgently address both the scale of its ambition and depths of its compassion."

On Wednesday last week, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria reported mass atrocities by government forces and armed groups.

In areas of Syria under ISIS control, "Fridays are regularly marked by executions, amputations, and lashings in public squares. Civilians, including children, are urged to watch. Bodies of those killed are placed on display for several days, terrorising the local population. Women have been lashed for not abiding by ISIS's dress code." Children as young as ten are being recruited and trained at ISIS camps, the report says.

The Syrian government is accused of "indiscriminate firing of missiles and barrel bombs into civilian-inhabited areas. In some instances, there is clear evidence that civilian gatherings were deliberately targeted, constituting massacres." In April and May, government forces used chemical agents, likely chlorine, in eight separate incidents in western Syria the report suggests.

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