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Middle East

Syrian conflict pushes world refugee total toward record: United Nations

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, Portuguese Antonio Guterres addresses the 63rd session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Program. (APPhoto/Keystone, Salvatore Di Nolfi)

GENEVA: With tens of thousands fleeing Syria every month, the number of refugees worldwide in 2012 is set to be the highest this century, a senior United Nations official said Monday.

High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, told his agency’s executive committee that its ability to cope was being stretched to the limit.

“Already in 2011, as crisis after crisis unfolded, more than 800,000 people crossed borders in search of refuge – an average of more than 2,000 refugees every day,” he said. That total had been the highest since the turn of the century “and so far this year more than 700,000 people have fled from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Sudan and Syria,” Guterres added.

Last Friday, another UNHCR official said the total from Syria could reach 700,000 this year, nearly four times its earlier estimate.

About 294,000 refugees fleeing 18 months of fighting have already crossed into Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey, or await registration there, Panos Moumtzis told a news briefing.

He said 100,000 people had fled Syria in August, 60,000 in September and at the moment 2,000 or 3,000 were crossing daily into neighboring states.

Guterres told the executive committee that the cost of helping refugees was rising while long-lasting crises like Afghanistan and Somalia continued. “We are at a moment when the demands on us are rising while the means available to respond have remained at a similar level to last year,” he said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 02, 2012, on page 8.

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