Syrian refugees at a camp in Jordan 370 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed)
ANKARA - The number of refugees outside Syria could triple
by the end of the year from the 1 million now if there is no resolution to the
conflict, the head of the UN refugee agency said on Sunday.
millionth Syrian refugee was registered in Jordan on Wednesday, following a
dramatic acceleration in the number of civilians fleeing war in their
Syrians started trickling out of the country nearly two years
ago when President Bashar Assad's forces shot at pro-democracy protests
inspired by Arab revolts elsewhere.
The uprising has since turned into an
increasingly sectarian struggle between armed rebels and government soldiers and
militias. An estimated 70,000 people have been killed.
The UN refugee
body, UNHCR, says more than 400,000 Syrian refugees - nearly half the total -
have fled Syria since Jan. 1.
Around half the refugees are children, most
of them under 11.
In December, there were 3,000 refugees on average a
day. In January, it had risen to 5,000. By February, there were
"If this escalation goes on ... we might have in the end of the
year a much larger number of refugees, two or three times the present level,"
High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told reporters in
"Everything depends on whether or not we will have a political
solution but we need to be prepared for a very strong increase of the present
numbers," he said.
Most refugees have fled to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey,
Iraq and Egypt and some to North Africa and Europe. In addition to the refugees,
the UNHCR says more than 2 million of Syria's 22 million people have been
internally displaced.Turkish camps
Guterres, who is on a 4-day visit to
Turkey, also warned of the risk of an "explosion" in the Middle East if there
was no political end to the conflict in Syria, which has increasingly spilled
beyond its borders. He did not elaborate.
Guterres will meet Turkish
leaders during his trip as well as visiting a refugee camp near the Syrian
In a meeting with four parliamentarians of Turkey's main
opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) in Damascus on Thursday, Assad said
he couldn't control some parts of Syria, accusing Turkey of backing
"We can't control all parts of Syria. We are focused on big
cities. There are terrorist attacks in the countryside," Assad said according to
the report published by CHP on Sunday.
"Some 75 percent of Syria's border
with Turkey is controlled by al Qaeda and some 25 percent is under the PKK (The
Kurdistan Worker's Party that is designated as a terrorist group by Turkey, U.S
and EU)." The visit of the legislators angered Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip
Erdogan, who was accused by Assad of desiring further tension in Syria. Turkey
shares a 900-km (560-mile) border with Syria, and Erdogan is seen as a pivotal
player in backing the Syrian opposition and in planning for the era after Assad.
"Erdogan and Qatari Emir [Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani] have made
the Syrian crisis a personal issue ... to further survive in their positions and
to adopt their Islamist agenda in Syria," Assad said.
Turkey, which has
more than 185,000 Syrians registered in camps on its territory, and tens of
thousands more living in towns and cities, has long advocated setting up
internationally protected zones inside Syria to protect fleeing
However, the notion has gained little traction in Western
countries, who do not want to get further embroiled in the Syrian
Guterres said his agency was not against such safe zones in
general but that they should not undermine the right for refugees to seek asylum
in other countries.
Despite pledges of $1.5 billion by international
donors for a UN response plan to help Syria's displaced, only 25 percent has
been funded, UNHCR has said.
Turkey alone says it has spent some $700
million setting up 17 refugee camps, with more under construction. But the
country's disaster and relief management body, AFAD, said last week the actual
cost of caring for the refugees was closer to $1.5 billion.
There is no
end in sight to the conflict in Syria, which has divided world powers.