On the eve of the third anniversary of unrest that led to the Syrian civil war, the United Nation's refugee agency (UNHCR) said Friday that the country now leads the world in forced displacement, with more than 9 million people uprootedas a result of the conflict.
The total number of displaced people is comprised of over 2.5 million refugees who are living in neighboring countries and 6.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) within Syria, according to the UNHCR. The number of people uprooted — half of which are children — equals 40 percent of the country’s pre-war population.
In crossing the 9 million mark, experts believe that Syria has overtaken Afghanistan as the world’s leader in forcibly displaced persons.
“It is unconscionable that a humanitarian catastrophe of this scale is unfolding before our eyes with no meaningful progress to stop the bloodshed," said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. "No effort should be spared to forge peace. And no effort spared to ease the suffering of the innocent people caught up in the conflict and forced from their homes, communities, jobs and schools."
The unresolved conflict will see the number of displaced people rapidly rise in 2014, the U.N.-Arab League peace mediator Lakhdar Brahimi warned Thursday. And fragile peace talks could be scuppered if the Syrian government goes ahead with holding an election that would all but guarantee a new presidential term for Bashar-Al Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for 44 years.
"There is, to my knowledge, no official declaration yet in Damascus that this election is going to take place, but there are a lot of activities that seem to indicate that there is an election," Brahimi told reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council.
"If there is an election," he said, "then my suspicion is that the opposition, all the oppositions, will probably not be interested in talking to the government."
A Western diplomat inside Brahimi's closed-door briefing for the Security Council said Brahimi told its 15 member nations that he doubted another 7-year term for Assad would put an end to the suffering of the Syrian people.
Assad has not yet announced whether he will stand for a third term in defiance of a collection of divergent rebel groups fighting to overthrow him and Western leaders who have demanded he abandon power to help end Syria's civil war. But in state-controlled parts of the capital, preparations for his candidacy are unmistakable.
Syria's parliament has set residency rules for presidential candidates, state media said on Friday, a move that would bar many of Assad's foes who live in exile.
No one in the opposition has announced an intention to challenge Assad in elections that are due to be held by July. Many have lived outside of Syria since before the revolt began in March 2011, and more left in the ensuing security crackdown.
The Western-backed opposition Syrian National Coalition, whose leaders are outside Syria, maintains a provisional government for rebel-held areas based in Istanbul.
Two rounds of peace talks mediated by Brahimi in Geneva earlier this year failed to bring the sides closer to agreement on a transitional government or a halt to the fighting that has killed more than 146,000 people.
Al Jazeera and Reuters