May 21, 2013
More than 100,000 fled Syria in August
BEIRUT — More than 100,000 Syrians fled their country in August, the highest monthly total since the crisis began in March 2011, the UN refugee agency said yesterday.
That exodus sharply increased the number of Syrians now living in neighbouring countries, bringing the total number of refugees to 234,368 in the past 17 months, the agency said.
Along with activists’ reports that the death toll in August was also the highest in the civil war with 5,000 killed, all signs are pointing to unprecedented levels of misery in a country where President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is fighting an increasingly violent rebellion.
“If you do the math, it’s quite an astonishing number,” UN refugee agency spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said of the number of people who fled in August, speaking to reporters yesterday in Geneva.
“And it points to a significant escalation in refugee movement and people seeking asylum, and probably points to a very precarious and violent situation inside the country,” she said.
But even the August figure only counts refugees who are registered and those awaiting registration. Officials acknowledge the real number of Syrian refugees is likely way above 200,000, because tens of thousands are believed to have not yet contacted authorities.
‘Both sides violating rights’
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon accused both the Syrian government and the opposition of large-scale human right violations and failing to protect civilians fleeing the country.
“Prisoners on both sides are subject to harsh treatment and, often, torture,” Ban said in a speech before the UN General Assembly. “There have been alarming reports of summary executions on both sides.”
As Syrians look to escape the bloodshed, Assad told the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross yesterday that the group is welcome to operate in Syria — as long as it remains “neutral and independent,” state media reported.
Assad has accused the international community of conspiring to unseat him.
In urgent need of aid
ICRC spokeswoman Rabab al-Rafai did not give further details about Assad’s meeting with Peter Maurer in Damascus but said the Red Cross chief also met Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mekdad and the head of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.
“President Assad confirmed Syria welcomes the humanitarian operations that the organization is conducting on the ground in Syria as long as it works in a neutral and independent way,” the state-run SANA news agency quoted Assad as saying.
Maurer’s three-day visit, which began Monday, comes as the need for humanitarian assistance grows increasingly urgent.
According to the UN refugee agency, there are now more than 80,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey, where the borders remain open, and there is a backlog of 8,000 Syrians waiting to be processed at the border, Fleming said. Jordan has more than 77,000 Syrian refugees; Lebanon has more than 59,000; and Iraq nearly 18,700, according to the agency.
Inside Syria, the fighting has spread to the two largest cities — the capital of Damascus and the commercial hub of Aleppo.
The UN’s World Food Programme spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said more than 264,000 people are taking shelter in public buildings in the Aleppo region.
The head of the main Syrian opposition group called for a massive aid programme to help rebuild his country in a post-Assad era, warning that a lack of economic development would open the door to extremism.
Abdelbaset Sieda, the head of the Syrian National Council, told a meeting of Syrian opposition representatives and diplomats that a reconstruction programme similar to the one after World War II would be needed.
Herald with AP, Reuters