Four million Syrians have fled abroad from civil war
More than four million Syrians have fled abroad since the 2011 outbreak of civil war, the largest number from any crisis in almost 25 years, the United Nations said yesterday.
A recent wave of people leaving Syria and an update of Turkish statistics confirmed the tragic milestone, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.
The agency said 7.6 million additional people have been displaced from their homes within Syria by the fighting.
The four million refugees are the most to flee a conflict since the Afghan civil war forced 4.6 million out of their country, beginning in 1992.
"This is the biggest refugee population from a single conflict in a generation," UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said.
"It is a population that needs the support of the world but is instead living in dire conditions and sinking deeper into poverty."
The flow of refugees is accelerating only 10 months after the agency said more than three million Syrians had fled their country.
Turkey has borne much of the impact. In June alone, according to UNHCR, more than 24,000 people arrived from northern Syria amid fighting between the Isil group and Kurdish militants.
The total of more than 1.8 million Syrians in Turkey have made it the biggest host of refugees in the world, an expensive undertaking that Turkey is bearing mostly on its own.
"What are we going to be facing in another year's time?" Andrew Harper, the UNHCR chief in Jordan, said.
Harper emphasised that countries involved had to figure out ways to keep the Syrian refugees productive.
"We should make sure that the people who are here, the skills, the work, the ability, are not wasted," Harper said. "We do not want to warehouse the refugee population of four million. Just imagine the amount of productivity they could contribute to an economy."
The dire situation is pushing a wave of Syrian refugees to escape to Western Europe, taking increasingly risky paths across the Mediterranean as European countries resist the flow of migrants and refugees.
"We cannot afford to let them (the refugees) and the communities hosting them slide further into desperation," Mr Guterres said.
Meanwhile, it also emerged yesterday that more than 200 Americans have travelled or attempted to travel to Syria to fight for Islamic militants, Federal Bureau of Investigation chief James Comey has confirmed.
"We continue to identify individuals who seek to join the ranks of foreign fighters ... and also homegrown violent extremists who may aspire to attack the United States from within," Mr Comey told lawmakers on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The radicalisation of Americans by Isil (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) is a top concern for the agency, and earlier on Wednesday Comey urged technology companies to allow law enforcement authorities access to encrypted communications to help combat the problem.