GENEVA — The United Nations reports the number of refugees from Syria's war has reached the one million mark, calling it a tragic milestone. It predicts the number will continue to rise until a political solution is found for the two-year-long conflict.
The U.N. refugee agency warns Syria is spiraling toward a full-scale disaster. It says thousands of vulnerable Syrians - mainly women and children -- are crossing into neighboring countries under terrifying circumstances.
UNHCR spokeswoman Sybella Wilkes says that newborn babies and elderly people are among those fleeing under the cover of darkness, unable to see, often with gunfire in front of them.
She says the refugees arrive in neighboring countries traumatized, without possessions and having lost members of their families. And yet, she says, they continue to flee because they feel they have no other options.
Wilkes says most of the one million refugees from Syria have left in the last year. She sees this as a reflection of the deteriorating situation in their country.
“We have seen an unrelenting flow of Syrian refugees - pretty much since the middle of last year. But, since the beginning of this year, we have had an average of 7,000 Syrian refugees crossing the border every single day," she said. "They have come at double the rate we anticipated. In December, we put out a plan for $1 billion where we anticipated that over one million would arrive by the end of June. They have now have arrived at the beginning of March.“
The UNHCR has received only 25 percent of the funds needed for its humanitarian operations. The agency is appealing to the international community and private donors to rapidly come up with the funds needed.
In the meantime, Wilkes says the UNHCR has some stockpiles of relief supplies on hand and is drawing on other funds to respond to the refugee needs.
She says the impact of this large number of people arriving in Syria's neighbors is severe.
“Lebanon’s population has increased by as much as 10 percent. In Jordan, the energy, water, health and education services are being stretched to the limit," she said. "The Turkish government tells us they have spent over $600 million so far setting up 17 refugee camps. And, even Iraq - who would have thought that Iraq, still reeling from its own conflict, has received over 100,000 Syrian refugees in the past year.”
Wilkes says there is no sign the flow of refugees from Syria will lessen any time soon. She says they need help and the countries that are hosting them need assistance.
The UNHCR says this tragedy has to be stopped. But, without a political solution to end this crisis, it warns the situation for the Syrian people will only get worse.