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03/06/2013

Meet Syria's one millionth refugee

Syria-child
Bushra is the UNHCR's one millionth Syrian refugee. She fled to Lebanon with her small son Omar. (Photo courtesy Greg Beals/UNHCR)

AMMAN--UNHCR today registered its one millionth Syrian refugee. Her name is Bushra and she fled to Lebanon with her small son Omar. 

Last December the UN predicted there would be one million refugees by June. But the figure has been reached three months earlier than expected which means the crisis is escalating quickly.

Bushra is typical of those fleeing the civil war because it is disproportionately affecting women and children, who make up three quarters of the refugees. She told reporters,   in the Lebanese city of Tripoli:

"Our situation is so bad, everything is so expensive, we can't find any work. The situation is so bad, I live with 20 other people in one room."

Relief organizations are overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis and lack of funding to cope with it.

Here in Jordan there are now 420,000 Syrians. I spoke to Dominique Hyde the head of UNICEF’s Jordan office. By the middle of this month the agency will not be able to provide water to Jordanian refugee camps, she told me.

“That could lead to cholera outbreaks,” she said.

UNICEF may have to cut back on its vaccination program for the refugee children.
"Something has got to give," she told me.

But the Red Cross believes the figure is higher because not all of the refugees have been registered or assisted.

Disaster manager Peter Garrett said: “The escalation of this refugee crisis is shocking, but we know that the true figure is likely to be higher.  Some Syrians will not have registered as refugees, either from fear or pride. We know that the Jordanian Red Crescent have come across families who are worried about giving their names to anyone official. People are living in urban areas, blending in with the local population. While we often see images of camps, the reality in Jordan is that two thirds of refugees are living in rented accommodation or makeshift tents. There is a hidden refugee crisis within the towns and cities of all Syria’s border countries.”

Hamida Ghafour is a foreign affairs reporter at The Star. She has lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia for more than 10 years and is the author of a book on Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter @HamidaGhafour.

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