Syrian refugees top 2 million as thousands flee daily

The exodus is part of a larger displacement within Syria's borders, with nearly one-third of Syrians leaving their homes

The number of refugees in Syria has surpassed the 2 million mark, the United Nations said Tuesday, in the ever worsening humanitarian crisis that has resulted from the two-year-old Syrian civil war. Almost one-third of the country's population has been uprooted, including internal displacement.

"Syria has become the great tragedy of this century -- a disgraceful humanitarian calamity with suffering and displacement unparalleled in recent history," said António Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Guterres said the number of refugees could reach 3 million by year's end.

The tide of children, women and men crossing borders has risen almost ten-fold over the past 12 months, figures from the U.N. refugee agency showed.

The 2 million refugees that the U.N. now documents, which includes more than 1 million children, is placing a huge strain on the countries hosting them. At the end of August, some 716,000 Syrian refugees were registered or in the process of being registered in Lebanon, 515,000 in Jordan, 460,000 in Turkey, 168,000 in Iraq and 110,000 in Egypt, according to the agency's numbers.

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Ministers from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey -- the four main hosts of Syrian refugees -- are due to meet officials from the agency in Geneva Wednesday to work out ways to raise more international aid.

Despite extensive pledges to the U.N. from donor nations to combat the refugee crisis, the actual money has been slow to come in and remains inadequate according to some.

"One of the biggest problems remains the lack of funding for the U.N.'s efforts," Dawn Chatty, director of the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford, told Al Jazeera.

Of the $1.1 billion that the U.N. refugee agency requested in 2013, it has received less than half, with the U.S. having given 40 percent of that $548 million.

Travails at home and abroad

While the U.N's 2 million figure is itself massive in terms of past refugee movements, it belies the fact that more than 4 million people that have been displaced within the country.

Chatty said internally displaced persons are even more difficult to reach and support, despite the efforts of international organizations and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, a Syrian non-profit humanitarian organization.

"Syria is in an internal displacement crisis," said Syria analyst Guillaume Charron, in an Aug. 16 press release put out by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), a leading international monitor of displacement resulting from conflict.

"For hundreds of thousands of men, women and children being forced from their homes and livelihoods by the current violence, hunger and dehydration is as much of a threat as the bombs and the bullets," he said.

But despite the hardship internally and the huge numbers of people leaving, many more are reluctant to depart their country.

"A lot of people are afraid to leave," Chatty said. "People don't want to become Palestinian-ized" -- she said in reference to the decades-long displacement of millions of Palestinians that began in 1948.

For those who have left Syria and who are at risk of being permanently uprooted from their homes, the relocation experience brings up a whole new set of social traumas, as host countries -- themselves strained by poor economies and conflict -- are hard-pressed to provide for the population influx.

Some 5,000 people on average take refuge in Syria's neighbor countries every day, according to the U.N. report. "Syria is hemorrhaging women, children and men who cross borders often with little more than the clothes on their backs," the UNHCR said.

A report released Tuesday by Oxfam International and the ABAAD-Resource Center for Gender Equality, a Beirut-based non-profit, chronicled the ongoing difficulties that Syrian refugees have felt in countries like Lebanon, currently home to more Syrian refugees than any other country.

And that is a burden that falls especially hard on women.

"Despite generous assistance from host communities in Lebanon, there are growing tensions in communities where there are a high number of refugee arrivals, making the lives of women much harder," said Roula Masri, Gender Equality Program Coordinator for ABAAD, in the report.

Across a number of areas, from malnutrition and lack of educational access to domestic violence and sexual harassment, the lives of Syrian women in Lebanon are severely impacted in a negative way, the report said.

A long road forward

About 6.2 million Syrians have thus been torn from their homes -- a number without parallel in any other country and representing nearly a third of Syria's pre-war population of 20.8 million.

The U.N. refugee agency said last month that its work had so far stopped the refugee crisis from spiraling out of control. But "a far more substantial and coherent strategy" was needed than the refugee aid effort already underway, it added.

The refugee crisis continues unabated as the U.S. debates whether to launch missile strikes against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in response to an alleged Aug. 21 gas attack that the U.S. says killed over 1,400 people.

Last week the International Committee of the Red Cross warned that any military intervention in Syria would exacerbate the already dire humanitarian crisis in the country.

Syria's uprising against four decades of rule by the Assad family has turned into an increasingly sectarian civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people.

With wire services

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