The number of Syrians who have fled their war-ravaged country and are seeking assistance has now reached 1 million since fighting broke out two years ago, the U.N.’s refugee agency said Wednesday.
“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.
“We are doing everything we can to help, but the international humanitarian response capacity is dangerously stretched. This tragedy has to be stopped.”
The UNHCR said the level of one million comprised both registered refugees and those awaiting registration, and that the count was based on fresh data received from its offices in the Middle East.
The agency previously had estimated that numbers would reach 1.1 million by June but said Wednesday that it would adjust that figure.
Syria’s uprising began in March 2011 with protests against President Bashar Assad’s authoritarian rule. When the government cracked down on demonstrators, the opposition took up arms and the conflict turned into a full-blown civil war. The United Nations estimates that more than 70,000 people have been killed.
The relentless violence also has devastated many cities and forced hundreds of thousands of Syrians to seek refuge abroad.
Guterres said the number of refugees has swelled dramatically this year, with most Syrians pouring into Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. More than 400,000 people have become refugees since Jan. 1, and often arrive in neighboring countries “traumatized, without possessions and having lost members of their families,” he said.
Around half are children; the majority under age 11.
The U.N. in December estimated that 1.1 million Syrian refugees would arrive in neighboring countries by the end of June this year. At that time its regional response plan was only 25 percent funded, and it is now in the process of adjusting it in light of the new figures, Guterres said.