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Terrorism & Security

Nearly 1 in 20 Syrians are now refugees (+video)

Neighboring nations are straining to handle the 1 million refugees generated by two years of fighting.

By Staff writer / March 6, 2013

Syrian refugees collect aid and rations at the Al Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, March 6. Most of the Syrian refugees have fled to neighboring countries, mostly Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq, though AFP adds that North Africa and Europe have also seen an uptick of Syrians trying to escape the conflict.

Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

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Europe Editor

Arthur Bright is the Europe Editor at The Christian Science Monitor.  He has worked for the Monitor in various capacities since 2004, including as the Online News Editor and a regular contributor to the Monitor's Terrorism & Security blog.  He is also a licensed Massachusetts attorney.

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After his first diplomatic trip as secretary of state, John Kerry spoke with CBS News, reaffirming the US policy of giving aid, but not arms or ammunition, to Syrian rebels.

The United Nations announced Wednesday that one million Syrians – nearly 1 out of every 20 people in the country – have fled the civil war, threatening a "full-scale disaster" in the country.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said that the one million count included both registered refugees and those awaiting registration, with 400,000 of those coming just since the beginning of this yearAgence France-Presse reports.

"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," UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said in a statement issued in Geneva.

"We are doing everything we can to help, but the international humanitarian response capacity is dangerously stretched. This tragedy has to be stopped."

AFP notes that a year ago, the UN only tallied 30,000 refugees. The CIA estimated Syria's population to be 22.5 million in 2012.

Most of the refugees have fled to neighboring countries, mostly Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq, though AFP adds that North Africa and Europe have also seen an uptick of Syrians trying to escape the conflict.

Lebanon, which abuts some of the country's most populated regions, is under particular stress from the Syrian exodus. The Daily Star reports that more than 325,000 Syrians and 25,000 Palestinians living in Syria have fled across the border into Lebanon, threatening to overwhelm the country's limited resources.

During a visit to Lebanon yesterday, European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy Stefan Füle said that the Commission would give 30 million euros ($39 million) in aid to Lebanon "within weeks" to help with the refugee crisis, the Daily Star reports.

In addition to noting the expected speed with which the money will be delivered, Füle highlighted that “for the first time [the money] will be made available ... for not only meeting the needs of refugees themselves, but also [for] meeting the needs of the hosting communities, because we realize that this increased number is quite a strain on Lebanon and its citizens.”

He said the money targeted at host communities would be used to “improve the capacity of local communities and municipalities and in some cases [to help] ... families to cope with this extra burden.”

Mr. Füle warned, however, that "more work needs to be done for the government to be ready for the challenges of tomorrow."

The conflict in Syria has also stirred up divisions in Lebanese politics, which have long been influenced by both current President Bashar al-Assad and his father, Hafez al-Assad. The Daily Star reports that members of the Future Movement opposition, led by Rafik Hariri, yesterday called for Foreign Affairs Minister Adnan Mansour to resign over his refusal to issue official complaints to the Syrian government after Syrian artillery shelled Lebanese territory.

The Daily Star reports that Prime Minister Najib Mikati, a Sunni, and President Michel Sleiman, a Christian, told Mr. Mansour, a Shiite, to file such complaints, but the Syrian ambassador to Lebanon said that he had not been contacted by Mansour, and that Syria would continue to target rebels in Lebanon. The Assad regime is made up mostly of Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. 

Mr. Mikati criticized Mansour publicly on Monday, warning that "The prime minister decides what the government’s stance is and Lebanon will remain committed to the policy of disassociation" from the Syrian civil war.

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