The United Nations announced on Friday that more than half of all citizens in Syria have had to flee their home during the three year-long civil war with the result being a record three million Syrians housed as refugees around the region.
While the United States and its allies debate how to address countering militants with the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) in both Syria and Iraq, the battle between Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and the rebels intent on removing him from power continues unabated. The clashes between Assad’s regime and security forces and the multitude of groups fighting against him has had disastrous results for the civilian population within Syria, precipitating a massive humanitarian crisis. In 2012, Syria’s population was 22 million. Now, according to the United Nations, more than half of them have been forced to flee that violence.
“One in every eight Syrians has fled across the border, fully a million more than a year ago,” the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement, documenting just how bad the situation has gotten. In total, that means that there are for the first time more than three million Syrian refugees have been dispersed throughout the region. On top of that, there are more than 6.5 million additional Syrians who have been displaced but remain within Syria.
The hardships faced as the number of refugees in countries like Lebanon and Jordan grows are only growing more severe, the U.N. said. “More than four in five refugees are struggling to make a living in urban areas, with 38 per cent living in sub-standard shelter, according to a recent survey,” the UNHCR noted. A growing share of them are arriving in their host countries suffering from long-term medical issues, having fled due to no longer being able to receive proper care in Syria. And smugglers are now charging some crossing the desert into Jordan as much as $100 U.S. for their support, a huge sum for those who have often had to leave everything behind.
“The Syrian crisis has become the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era, yet the world is failing to meet the needs of refugees and the countries hosting them,” Antonio Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said in a statement. So far the U.N.’s request for funding for the situation in Syria remains only 30 percent complete, with $692 million of the $2.28 billion required to fully feed, clothe, and provide shelter and medicine to Syria’s population provided from donor governments.
Humanitarian aid groups used the U.N. announcement to castigate the world — especially countries outside the region — for not dedicating enough resources to helping the vast number of people who have been affected by the violence. “As the number of refugees grows, aid is proving insufficient and neighboring countries are stretched to breaking point,”Andy Baker, Oxfam’s head of Syria crisis response, said in a statement. “It is shocking that over three years into a crisis which shows no sign of abating, rich countries have resettled a mere 5,000 of the 3 million registered refugees who are often struggling to survive from one day to the next.”
David Miliband, International Rescue Committee president and CEO, agreed that Syria’s neighbors need more help. “The three million refugees from the Syria conflict represent three million indictments of government brutality, opposition violence and international failure,” Milliband said in a statement. “This appalling milestone needs to generate action as well as anger,” he continued, adding that “there needs to be greatly increased efforts to reduce [the Syrian people’s] suffering.”
The announcement comes one week after the U.N. gave its first update in months of the number of men, women, and children who have been killed in the civil war. According to a tally of confirmed deaths, not counting those who died from second-hand effects such as starvation or have simply vanished, at least 191,369 have been killed over the course of the war. This also doesn’t include another 51,953 reported deaths that the U.N. couldn’t verify.