More than 2 million refugees have fled Syria's violence in an exodus that shows no sign of letting up and could destabilize neighboring countries, the UN refugee agency said Tuesday.
Antonio Guterres, head of the Office for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said an average of almost 5,000 citizens a day are flowing out of Syria, many of them with little more than the clothes they are wearing.
- 1 million Syrian child refugees
- Syrian refugees struggle to make ends meet
What's particularly alarming, Guterres said, is that number of refugees has surged by 1.8 million in just 12 months - up from almost 231,000 a year ago.
"Syria has become the great tragedy of this century," Guterres said of the civil war that began as a rebellion against President Bashar Assad's regime in March 2011. "The only solace is the humanity shown by the neighboring countries in welcoming and saving the lives of so many refugees."
Another 4.25 million people have been displaced within Syria, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
More than 97 per cent of Syria's refugees are hosted by countries in the immediate surrounding region, which is overwhelming their infrastructures, economies and societies and making them in need of urgent outside help, the agency said in a statement.
Ministers from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey were planning to meet with agency officials Tuesday in Geneva in an effort to gain greater international support.
"If the situation continues to deteriorate at this rate," said the agency's special envoy, actress Angelina Jolie, "the number of refugees will only grow, and some neighboring countries could be brought to the point of collapse."
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