Number of Syrian refugees surpasses two million | News | DW | 03.09.2013

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Number of Syrian refugees surpasses two million

The exodus of war-weary Syrians to neighboring countries has surpassed two million, according to the United Nations. Its count coincides with Sweden's decision to grant residence to newly arriving Syrian asylum-seekers.

According to the latest figures released by the United Nations on Tuesday, the number of registered Syrian refugees who have fled their home country has jumped quickly within the last 12 months, surpassing two million in August.

Since 2012 alone, some 1.8 million Syrians have been driven into neighboring Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt due to a swiftly deteriorating humanitarian situation, aggravated by heavy fighting between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's military and opposition groups

"Syria is hemorrhaging women, children and men who cross borders often with little more than clothes on their backs," the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres said on Tuesday, adding that an average of 5,000 people daily were exiting Syria.

Watch video 03:01

UNHCR: 2 million Syrian refugees

"Syria has become the great tragedy of this century," Guterres said. "What is appalling is that the first million fled Syria in two years. The second million fled Syria in six months."

In total six millon or nearly one-third of the country's pre-war population of 20 million has been forced to abandon their original homes since fighting began in March 2011, the UNHCR said. Of those, over 4.25 million people have remained displaced inside Syria.

The UNHCR called for immediate attention to how the humanitarian crisis was threatening stability in the region.

"The risks for global peace and security that the present Syria crisis represents, I'm sure, are not smaller than what we have witnessed in any other crisis that we have had since the Vietnam war," said Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister.

Sweden relaxes intake rules

The Migration Board in Sweden, which is already a key destination for Syrian refugees in Europe, said on Tuesday that newly arriving Syrian asylum-seekers would be granted permanent residence.

Previously, only about half of them were allowed to stay permanently. Since last year, Sweden has already taken in some 14,700 refugees from Syria.

Swedish Migration Minister Tobias Billstroem called on countries "inside and outside the EU to think about our responsibilities."

Since the start of 2013, some 5,500 Syrians have filed asylum applications inside Germany.

On September 12, a chartered aircraft is due to leave Lebanon bound for Germany, carrying the first of a contingent of 5,000 selected Syriens who had registered with the UNHCR in Beirut by March 31. The German interior ministry has set selection criteria such as vulnerability, family links in Germany and qualifications of recipient hosts in Germany. The decision to take in 5,000 was made by Germany's federal and regional state interior ministers earlier this year.

An UNCHR spokeswomen in Beirut, Dana Sleiman, told the German news agency EPD on Tuesday that the selection process was not complete and proving very difficult.

"A large proportion of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, who have registered with us, are fairing badly," Sleiman said. "They live under arduous conditions and need support."

Last month, Chancellor Angela Merkel said, since 2012, Germany had provided humanitarian aid for displaced Syrians to the value of 340 million euros in the conflict region. Her Social Democrat challenger in Germany's September 22 election, Peer Steinbrück, called on the federal government to provide more money to German municipalities so they could take in more Syrian refugees.

US, France contemplate military strike

Tuesday's grim assessment from the UNHCR followed a tense week of deliberations between international leaders over the proper response to allegations of chemical weapons use by President Assad's forces near Damascus in late August. At least 1,429 people were killed in that attack on August 21, according to US officials.

US President Barack Obama along with French President Francois Hollande and NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen have all said they believe al-Assad's regime was behind the attack. Other leaders are awaiting for the official results from UN investigators who visited the site last week.

Obama's stated intenton to strike Syria prompted Assad's foreign minister to seek UN protection under international law on Monday.

kms,ipj/hc(AP, AFP, epd, dpa)