By Tom Miles and Marina Depetris
GENEVA (Reuters) – The number of people fleeing Syria’s civil war into neighboring states and Egypt has passed the 5-million mark, data from the U.N. refugee agency showed on Thursday.
Syrians have poured across their borders into Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq since anti-government protests in 2011 spiraled into a full-blown conflict between rebels, Islamist militants, government troops and foreign backers.
After leveling off in 2016, refugee numbers rose this year following the military victory by the government and its Russian and Iranian-backed allies in the northern city of Aleppo.
“It’s not about the number, it’s about the people,” said UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch, noting that the conflict had now lasted longer than World War Two. “We’re trying to look for understanding, solidarity and humanity.”
The five-million milestone came a year to the day after UNHCR asked other countries to start resettling at least 10 percent of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees. So far only 250,000 places have been offered.
“We’re asking for more legal pathways for Syrians to travel to other countries so that they don’t end up dying in the seas like in the Mediterranean,” said Baloch.
Globally, almost 1.2 million refugees of all nationalities will need resettlement in 2017, 40 percent of them Syrians. Fear for their fate increased after U.S. President Donald Trump made an executive order banning entry to all Syrian refugees – plans he has since dropped.
“The U.S has remained the largest resettlement for refugees,” Baloch said. “Our hope is the focus will come back on the suffering of these desperate people and refugees and there will be solidarity and responsibility sharing by all countries.”
Even greater numbers of Syrians have been driven out of their homes and are still in Syria, including tens of thousands this month, mainly women and children, trying to get away from a rebel offensive northwest of the city of Hama.
Syrians have also fled to Europe in large numbers, making 884,461 asylum claims between April 2011 and October 2016. Almost two-thirds of the claims were in Germany or Sweden.
Hundreds of thousands more live in Gulf countries that are not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, so they are not recorded as refugees.
A U.N.-led humanitarian appeal to help Syrian refugees and support host communities has received only 6 percent of the money needed this year – $298 million out of $4.6 billion.
(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Andrew Heavens)