Conflict & Justice

Syria refugee count tops 1.5 million, UN says


Syrian refugees take part in a demonstration at the Zaatari refugee camp near the Syrian border on Feb. 22.


Khalil Mazraawi

More than 1.5 million refugees have fled Syria, the United Nation's refugee agency said Friday, noting that the real number could be much higher as the count only reflects those who have registered with aid groups.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the number of refugees and those waiting to be registered has reached 1,511,976, showing that the crisis in Syria is rapidly deteriorating.

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"Refugees tell us the increased fighting and changing of control of towns and villages, in particular in conflict areas, results in more and more civilians deciding to leave," said UNHCR regional coordinator Panos Moumtzis. "Over the past four months we have seen a rapid deterioration when compared to the previous 20 months of this conflict."

Spokesman for the UNHCR Dan McNorton said that almost 250,000 Syrians registered for refugee status each month, but many others were not registering because of a rumor circulating that there had been security risks for those who signed up.

He also noted that aid agencies were trying to get people to register in order to receive official help, despite the fact that the UNHCR is struggling to keep up with rising needs.

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"The increasingly widening gap between the needs and resources available is a growing challenge," McNorton said. "UNHCR continues to respond to the emergency needs of those in desperate need inside Syria and neighboring countries."

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report on Friday saying rights activists who had visited abandoned government prisons in the eastern city of Raqqa found torture devices and other evidence that detainees had been abused.

"The documents, prison cells, interrogation rooms, and torture devices we saw in the government's security facilities are consistent with the torture former detainees have described to us," said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director for HRW.

HRW researchers said they found physical evidence that Syrians were tortured at the facility, including a device that former detainees said was used to stretch or bend the arms and legs of victims. Documents stating that Raqqa residents were detained for legal actions like demonstrating or helping the injured were also found.