Syria Refugees Top 1 Million; UN: ‘Only 19 Million to Go!’
Geneva, Switzerland (AP) – The United Nations Refugee Agency announced today that the number of refugees who have fled Syria to neighboring countries has now hit one million, an auspicious milestone in the international effort to rid the country of all twenty million or so inhabitants.
“With a million people in flight, millions more displaced internally, and thousands of people continuing to cross the border every day, Syria is spiraling towards full-scale disaster,” the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, said in a statement. “This is well ahead of our agency’s projections, and represents a welcome augmentation of the Syrian refugee trend.”
It has taken two years, since the start of the uprising against Basher al-Assad’s rule,for the refugee numbers to begin growing as quickly as they are now. Guterres estimates that 7,000 to 8,000 refugees leave the country each day, which is well beyond initial projections. “Even if we don’t adjust for the slower pace of refugees in the initial years of the conflict, it should take only another forty years to completely empty Syria of people,” he said.
The UN agency, and a separate UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, have set a long-term goal of transforming the entire Middle East population into refugees, but have enjoyed only mixed success. The lion’s share of refugee population maintenance and cultivation has been at the hands of UNRWA, which provides education and other services to millions of Palestinians descended from the original population displaced in 1948-9 and 1967. Those services provide incentive for the refugees to remain stateless, and the agency’s policies dovetail with Palestinian Authority laws barring the development of infrastructure in refugee camps that would help the population lead some semblance of normal lives – but which could therefore be construed as acceptance of the displacement. The global Palestinian refugee population is estimated at five million.
The onset of hostilities across the Arab world two years ago initially gave the UN Refugee Agency hope that these developments would usher in a marked increase in the number of refugees, but with the exception of Syria, the conflicts ended too quickly to generate significant numbers of displaced people. In Tunisia and Libya, the overthrow of the regimes took weeks or months. In Egypt, the violence was comparatively contained and created no refugees. In Bahrain, the government successfully suppressed the unrest.
The UN has therefore pinned its hopes on Syria in the meantime, and has welcomed the international intervention of countries such as Saudi Arabia, Russia and Iran, which have supplied the warring factions with armaments, funds and training to help perpetuate and intensify the fighting.
Guterres laments the violence that has been directed at Palestinian refugees in various camps, decrying the waste of precious resources that could be put to better use creating more new refugees instead of attacking existing ones. “It’s shameful that the Syrian rebels have turned against the Palestinians in their midst. They should be taking lessons from them, not hurting them. The Palestinian refugees are our major success story, and it pains me to see that go unappreciated.”
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