Syria’s bloody civil war has now forced nearly half the country’s people from their homes, according to a United Nations report released today.
That includes about 3 million who have fled the country, mostly to Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey. That’s a million more than at this time last year.
Another 6.5 million have been displaced within Syria, which before the outbreak of the current conflict was said to have a population of about 22 million.
And there is no relief in sight. If anything, things are getting worse with the ascendance of the Islamic State, which now controls large sections of northern and eastern Syria, which it hopes to combine with a swath of Iraq in its self-proclaimed caliphate.
The conflict that began in 2011 with a revolt against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and continued with his relentless and indiscriminate assault on rebellious cities and towns across the country has become a regional cataclysm.
Lebanon has absorbed about 1.1 million refugees from Syria. Some 608,000 are in Jordan; another 815,000 are in Turkey. Most of them have no work, the U.N. report said. Many of them — up to 15 percent — are “suffering from long term medical conditions” such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, the agency reported.
“Syrians are now the world’s largest refugee population under UNHCR care, second only in number to the decades-long Palestinian crisis. The Syria operation is now the largest in UNHCR’s 64-year history,” the statement said.
It’s “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 U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
“There are worrying signs too that the journey out of Syria is becoming tougher, with many people 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,” said the UNHCR statement.