More than 2 million refugees have now fled Syria’s civil war in human suffering unparalleled in recent history, the United Nations said on Tuesday.
Of the total Syrian population of about 20 million, either inside or outside the country, one third is displaced and almost half is in need of assistance, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres told a news conference.
“What is appalling is that the first million fled Syria in two years. The second million fled Syria in six months,” he said.
The number of refugees stood at about 200,000 just a year ago, so the tide of men, women and children crossing borders has risen almost 10-fold over the past 12 months, figures from the UN refugee agency UNHCR showed.
“Syria has become the great tragedy of this century — a disgraceful humanitarian calamity with suffering and displacement unparalleled in recent history,” Guterres said.
“The only solace is the humanity shown by the neighbouring countries in welcoming and saving the lives of so many refugees.”
However, the number of refugees has grown more slowly than UNHCR once feared. It previously projected the total would hit 3.45 million by the end of the year, based on border crossings in February-March that averaged about 8,000 per day.
So far in 2013, the daily figure has averaged between 5,000 and 6,000, which means the total is likely to be 2.6-2.7 million by the end of the year, Guterres said.
But UNHCR’s figures include only officially registered refugees and those awaiting registration, and unofficial refugees probably number in the hundreds of thousands, he said.
The number of people displaced inside Syria is 4.25 million, in line with a forecast made in June. The flow of Syrian refugees has piled pressure on neighbouring host countries, UNHCR said.