The rate of departures has accelerated sharply in recent days, with nearly 50,000 Syrians fleeing the violence and reporting their presence to the United Nations in neighboring countries over the past week. With the total number of refugees estimated at more than 670,000 and no end in sight to the bloodshed, last month’s U.N. forecast that there would be more than 1 million refugees by June is on track to be surpassed well before that, according to Panos Moumtzis, regional coordinator for Syria at the UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency.
“This is the fastest-deteriorating humanitarian crisis on the planet . . . and it is deteriorating at a much, much faster pace than we had planned for,” Moumtzis said. “It’s dramatic, it’s explosive, and it’s dangerous.”
Most can expect little in the way of assistance because the international community has yet to respond to the reality that the most violent and intractable of the Arab Spring revolts also is spawning a humanitarian catastrophe.
A U.N. appeal last month for a record $1.5 billion to aid needy Syrians inside and outside the country has drawn few pledges. Of that amount, $519 million is intended for Syrians living inside the country, where conditions were described Tuesday as “appalling” by a U.N. mission that returned to Beirut from a four-day visit to Syria.
The rest is designated for the region, where governments are increasingly overwhelmed by the influx of desperate Syrians into communities that often are poor and politically unstable — a particular challenge during winter, when plunging temperatures bring storms and snow.
With little fanfare, tiny, fragile Lebanon has emerged at the epicenter of the refugee crisis, both in terms of absolute numbers and the per capita burden they impose. More than 218,000 Syrians have registered with authorities in this nation of 4 million, according to the United Nations, more than in Turkey or Jordan, which are bigger.
The real total is almost certainly higher, because many middle-class and wealthy Syrians who don’t seek U.N. help also have joined the exodus, squeezing Beirut’s rental market, crowding its schools and worsening its traffic jams.
But the vast majority of the refugees are poor, from battlegrounds nearby in the hard-hit provinces of Homs and Damascus. As Turkey restricts the flow across its borders because its refugee camps are swamped, and the Syrian government intensifies attacks nationwide, refugees are coming from farther afield as well.