UN officials 'astonished' as 100,000 flee Syria in month
Syria's humanitarian crisis escalated to a new level in August when 100,000 refugees fled the country -- the biggest monthly outflow since the conflict began, the United Nations said yesterday.
The UN High Commission for Refugees estimates that 235,300 people have left Syria for neighbours, with the biggest concentrations found in Turkey and Jordan. Several thousand have even arrived in Iraq -- the first refugees to choose to enter the country for at least 25 years.
Melissa Fleming, the commission spokesman, described last month's outflow as "quite an astonishing number". Many more Syrians have been displaced within their country's borders. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent puts the number of "internally displaced persons" at 1.5 million, meaning that about 8pc of the population have fled.
The gradual exodus of Syrians, particularly in border areas, has become a flood since the rebel Free Syrian Army launched determined and simultaneous attacks on Damascus and Aleppo, the two biggest cities, in mid-July.
The regime retaliated with its first sustained use of air power, hitting targets with helicopter gunships and jet fighters.
'The Daily Telegraph' witnessed the consequences in Aleppo last month when whole families died as their homes were destroyed from the air. These raids caused columns of pick-up trucks and vans overflowing with women and children to leave the city and head northwards towards the Turkish border.
The number of refugees has risen in line with the death toll. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based activist group, said this week that 5,440 people were killed last month -- including 4,114 civilians -- making August the bloodiest month of the war so far. It says that 26,000 people have been killed since the onset of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
Peter Maurer, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, was in Damascus yesterday for talks with Mr Assad. The regime, suspicious of international relief agencies, is often unwilling to allow humanitarian officials to work in the country.
A statement from Syria's official news agency said that Mr Assad "welcomed the humanitarian operations carried out by the committee on the ground in Syria, as long as it remains impartial and independent".
State media commented that Mr Maurer welcomed "the cooperation shown by the Syrian government".
In addition to the refugees inside and outside the country, perhaps another one million Syrians need humanitarian aid because of the collapse of public services.
That brings the total requiring some form of relief to 2.5 million -- or 12pc of the population. (© Daily Telegraph, London)