UN chief’s warning on refugees fleeing Syria

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The number of refugees outside Syria could triple by the end of the year from the one million now if there is no resolution to the conflict, the head of the UN refugee agency has said.

The one millionth Syrian refugee was registered in Jordan last Wednesday, following a dramatic acceleration in the number of civilians fleeing war in their homeland.

Syrians started trickling out of the country nearly two years ago when president Bashar al-Assad’s forces shot at pro-democracy protests. 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 1 January.

Around half the refugees are children, most of them under 11.

“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 Ankara.

“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.”

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 two million of Syria’s 22 million people have been internally displaced.

Mr Guterres, who is on a four-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.