Last updated: 11 September, 2012

More than 250,000 have fled Syria, says UN

The number of refugees who have fled Syria has reached more than 250,000, the United Nations said Tuesday, calling the humanitarian problems sparked by the conflict “our biggest crisis”.

“Latest figures show that more than a quarter of a million Syrian refugees (253,106 people) have now been registered in the surrounding region, or are awaiting registration,” UN Refugee agency spokesman Adrian Edwards said.

“The complexity of the crisis is one of the aspects which sets it apart and the speed with which people have fled Syria,” he added.

The fact that 100,000 people had fled the country into neighbouring countries in the space of a month made it “an extraordinary acceleration of this crisis”, Edwards said.

In Jordan, where the UNHCR’s High Commissioner Antonio Guterres is accompanying the agency’s Special Envoy, actress Angelina Jolie, there are 85,197 registered refugees, with a further 35,961 awaiting processing.

Jolie arrived in Jordan on Monday evening accompanied by a Jordanian military escort. She visited displaced Syrian families who recently crossed the border.

She is due to visit the Al-Zaatri refugee camp later Tuesday and then King Abdullah of Jordan, Prime Minister Fayez Tarawneh and foreign affairs minister Nasser Judeh.

“Angelina Jolie is our special envoy and she works with us on strategic issues and this is an enormously important visit; it’s really in many senses our biggest crisis at the moment so her visit flows from that and the High Commissioner’s too,” Edwards said.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it was seeking to reinforce its activities in Homs, a region of 2.2 million people, where hospitals were “overwhelmed with patients”.

“The humanitarian situation is grave and continues to deteriorate,” said spokesman Tarik Jasarevic at a press conference in Geneva, adding that the number of people in need of humanitarian aid there was 550,000.

“The priority needs relate to health care, food aid, shelter, water and sanitation and education. The urgency of scaling up delivery of humanitarian aid is exacerbated by the approaching winter,” he said.

Lack of access to health care was one of the biggest problems, with only half of Homs’s 12 public hospitals functioning with a reduced capacity, according to the WHO. The national hospital which had the largest capacity of 350 beds has been destroyed.

Other hospitals elsewhere in Syria have also reported a shortage of life-saving medicines, including in the western region of Latakia, the WHO spokesman said.

“There are reports that hospitals in Latakia have depleted their stock of cancer medicines, while other hospitals and health facilities in the country are continuing to report shortages of urgently needed non-communicable disease medicines, especially antibiotics, anaesthesia, trauma medicines and medicines for diabetes.” said Jasarevic.

More than 27,000 people have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March last year, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.