• Syrian refugees in northern Iraq (Photo: IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation)

Syrian refugees reach 2 million mark

03.09.13 @ 09:27

  1. By Valentina Pop
  2. Valentina email
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Berlin - The number of Syrian refugees has surpassed 2 million, half of whom are children, the UN refugee agency has said.

"Today, the number of Syrian refugees passed the threshold of two million, and with no sign of this tragic outflow ending," the United Nation's refugee agency said Tuesday (3 September). It noted that more than a million are children under 17 years.

The number marks a jump of almost 1.8 million people in just one year. More than 97 percent of Syria's refugees are hosted by countries in the immediate neighbourhood - Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Turkey.

According to EU humanitarian aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, only 46,000 Syrian refugees have made it all the way to Europe.

Under EU law, temporary protection in case of a mass influx can be given to refugees from a warzone - a decision that has to be taken by EU ministers. If adopted, it would be the first time the EU applies this mechanism, giving Syrians a residence permit, work authorisation, access to accommodation and medical treatment.

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta on Monday warned that the worsening Syrian situation will lead to more refugees.

"As always, Italy will do its share but there is a structural problem," Letta said, adding that Italy will try to establish a common EU approach to the problem after assuming the EU's rotating presidency in the second half of 2014.

With almost 5,000 Syrians fleeing every day into neighbouring countries, ministers from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey are to meet with UN representatives on Wednesday in Geneva in a bid to convince the international community to take up more refugees.

Within Syria, the UN agency estimates that over 4 million people have left their homes and sought refuge in safer areas.

"Taken together, these numbers – amounting to a total of more than six million people torn from their homes – mean that more Syrians are now forcibly displaced than is the case with any other country," it said.

Speaking in the German Parliament on Tuesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany offered to take on 5,000 Syrian refugees and wants other EU countries to follow suit.

When booed by the opposition that the number is too small, she said: "Excuse me, I think this is a first step and it is important."

Merkel also said any verbal attacks on refugees, as seen in neo-Nazi protests in Berlin last month, were "shameful."

Meanwhile, EU countries are in standby mode as the US president seeks the approval of Congress for a military strike against Syria.

Merkel on Tuesday again ruled out a German participation to a military operation and so did Italy's Letta.

In France, the government is seeking public support with a report presented to parliament by Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault saying that President Bashar al-Assad was the only one who could have ordered the use of chemical weapons on the suburbs of Damascus last month.

The French opposition has demanded a parliamentary vote on the matter.

But unlike Britain, where Prime Minister David Cameron failed to get the backing of the parliament, French President Francois Hollande does not require parliamentary approval for a military strike.

Ayraut said Hollande will not go alone into Syria and is still seeking to "build a coalition" together with the US.

Assad has rejected accusations that he used nerve gas and warned there is a risk of "regional war" in case they go ahead with a military strike.