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Over 5 million: UN issues stark warning as Syrian refugee count reaches new high

BEIRUT/ANKARA: More than 5 million Syrians are now refugees, the UN said Thursday, as aid groups urged the international community to end the country’s six-year war and provide more assistance.
The new figures mean around a quarter of Syria’s population has fled since the March 2011 start of a conflict that has killed over 320,000 people.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR urged more international assistance, with spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly calling the figure an “important milestone.”
“As the number of men, women and children fleeing six years of war in Syria passes the 5 million mark, the international community needs to do more to help them,” UNHCR said in a statement.
NGOs helping Syrian refugees have regularly sounded the alarm about the crisis, appealing for more funds and international action to end Syria’s war.
“It’s clear that the international community has completely failed to end the conflict in Syria,” said Alun McDonald, regional spokesman for Save the Children.
“The situation inside the country is still not remotely safe for people to go home, we see more people being uprooted every day,” he told AFP. He said much of the international community was also failing refugees, increasingly closing borders and turning them away.
Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, the Riyadh-based Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar, blamed Bashar Assad for the tragedy in Syria. “I believe the number is much higher than 5 million. But let us go by the official figure. It is a huge number, and the Bashar Assad regime is directly responsible for this catastrophe,” he told Arab News on Thursday. He said Russia and the world community have simply failed to find a solution to the conflict.
“They have just kept talking … at Geneva and Astana. They don’t care for the suffering people of Syria. They just want to save one man. They want to depopulate the entire nation for one man. This is very sad,” he said.
Al-Shehri said Iran and its militias are complicit in the crimes against humanity. “They are doing all this to effect demographic changes in the country so that whenever the elections are held they are able to engineer victories,” he added.
Most Syrian refugees are hosted by neighbors Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, with more in Iraq and Egypt.
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have also fled to Europe, often risking exploitation by smugglers and even death on arduous journeys by land and sea.
Smaller numbers have been resettled officially in Europe, Canada and the US, though President Donald Trump’s administration has sought to temporarily halt all Syrian refugee entries.
The largest group is in Turkey, with over 2.9 million registered Syrian refugees, according to the UN.
Less than a 10th reside in camps, with most living in Turkish cities, including more than half a million in Istanbul alone.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an early backer of the Syrian uprising who repeatedly urged Syria’s President Bashar Assad to step down, has even floated the possibility of granting some refugees citizenship.
Metin Corabatir, former spokesman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR in Turkey, told Arab News that there was a “significant” number of child refugees that do not attend school due to the economic difficulties they face.
He added that Syrian refugees living in Turkey face serious problems working or continuing their education.
“The lack of Turkish knowledge obliges them to work in low-profile and low-paid unregistered jobs, while the need to earn money pushes them out of education,” he said.
In Jordan, some 657,000 Syrian refugees are registered with the UN, but the government says the true figure is 1.3 million.
Tens of thousands of Syrians live in two large camps, Zaatari and Azraq, but the majority live in homes and apartments, able to access the job market but competing for scarce employment.
The situation is more complicated in Lebanon, where the government refused to set up formal camps.
The UN says around 1 million Syrians are in the country, though the government says the figure is higher, with many living in dismal conditions in informal camps.
Mouin Merehbi, Lebanon’s minister of state for refugee affairs, told Arab News that Lebanon does not support the resettlement of the Syrian refugees in a third country if that means they will lose their identity.
“We do not encourage uprooting people from their land and resettling them in another country… We support helping this people to travel to other countries for education, work and training prior to going back to Syria.”
Merehbi stressed that the displaced had left Syria to preserve their lives. “It is their choice and we refuse to force them to return (to Syria) or imposing any kind of pressure.”

BEIRUT/ANKARA: More than 5 million Syrians are now refugees, the UN said Thursday, as aid groups urged the international community to end the country’s six-year war and provide more assistance.
The new figures mean around a quarter of Syria’s population has fled since the March 2011 start of a conflict that has killed over 320,000 people.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR urged more international assistance, with spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly calling the figure an “important milestone.”
“As the number of men, women and children fleeing six years of war in Syria passes the 5 million mark, the international community needs to do more to help them,” UNHCR said in a statement.
NGOs helping Syrian refugees have regularly sounded the alarm about the crisis, appealing for more funds and international action to end Syria’s war.
“It’s clear that the international community has completely failed to end the conflict in Syria,” said Alun McDonald, regional spokesman for Save the Children.
“The situation inside the country is still not remotely safe for people to go home, we see more people being uprooted every day,” he told AFP. He said much of the international community was also failing refugees, increasingly closing borders and turning them away.
Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, the Riyadh-based Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar, blamed Bashar Assad for the tragedy in Syria. “I believe the number is much higher than 5 million. But let us go by the official figure. It is a huge number, and the Bashar Assad regime is directly responsible for this catastrophe,” he told Arab News on Thursday. He said Russia and the world community have simply failed to find a solution to the conflict.
“They have just kept talking … at Geneva and Astana. They don’t care for the suffering people of Syria. They just want to save one man. They want to depopulate the entire nation for one man. This is very sad,” he said.
Al-Shehri said Iran and its militias are complicit in the crimes against humanity. “They are doing all this to effect demographic changes in the country so that whenever the elections are held they are able to engineer victories,” he added.
Most Syrian refugees are hosted by neighbors Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, with more in Iraq and Egypt.
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have also fled to Europe, often risking exploitation by smugglers and even death on arduous journeys by land and sea.
Smaller numbers have been resettled officially in Europe, Canada and the US, though President Donald Trump’s administration has sought to temporarily halt all Syrian refugee entries.
The largest group is in Turkey, with over 2.9 million registered Syrian refugees, according to the UN.
Less than a 10th reside in camps, with most living in Turkish cities, including more than half a million in Istanbul alone.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an early backer of the Syrian uprising who repeatedly urged Syria’s President Bashar Assad to step down, has even floated the possibility of granting some refugees citizenship.
Metin Corabatir, former spokesman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR in Turkey, told Arab News that there was a “significant” number of child refugees that do not attend school due to the economic difficulties they face.
He added that Syrian refugees living in Turkey face serious problems working or continuing their education.
“The lack of Turkish knowledge obliges them to work in low-profile and low-paid unregistered jobs, while the need to earn money pushes them out of education,” he said.
In Jordan, some 657,000 Syrian refugees are registered with the UN, but the government says the true figure is 1.3 million.
Tens of thousands of Syrians live in two large camps, Zaatari and Azraq, but the majority live in homes and apartments, able to access the job market but competing for scarce employment.
The situation is more complicated in Lebanon, where the government refused to set up formal camps.
The UN says around 1 million Syrians are in the country, though the government says the figure is higher, with many living in dismal conditions in informal camps.
Mouin Merehbi, Lebanon’s minister of state for refugee affairs, told Arab News that Lebanon does not support the resettlement of the Syrian refugees in a third country if that means they will lose their identity.
“We do not encourage uprooting people from their land and resettling them in another country… We support helping this people to travel to other countries for education, work and training prior to going back to Syria.”
Merehbi stressed that the displaced had left Syria to preserve their lives. “It is their choice and we refuse to force them to return (to Syria) or imposing any kind of pressure.”

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