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Syrians fleeing at rate 'not seen since Rwanda'

An average of over 6,000 Syrians are fleeing the war every day, according to the UN – a rate not seen since the 1994 Rwanda genocide, it said. Most refugees are in neighbouring Lebanon, with others in Iraq, Egypt, Turkey and Jordan.


An estimated 5,000 Syrians are dying every month in the country’s civil war and refugees are fleeing at a rate not seen since the 1994 Rwanda genocide, UN officials said Tuesday.

According to UN refugee chief Antonio Guterres, two-thirds of the nearly 1.8 million Syrian refugees known to the agency have fled since the beginning of 2013 – an average of over 6,000 daily.

“We have not seen a refugee outflow escalate at such a frightening rate since the Rwandan genocide almost 20 years ago,” he said.

Thousands of people fled Rwanda after the 1994 genocide in which 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed.

Lebanon bears brunt

Guterres said “the danger that the Syrian conflict could ignite the whole region is not an empty warning”, urging the international action to support the stability of Syria’s neighbors and reduce “the enormous risks of spillover” to the wider Middle East.

Guterres appealed to all countries to keep their borders open to all Syrians who seek protection.

So far, there are more than 600,000 refugees registered in Lebanon, 160,000 in Iraq, 90,000 in Egypt and 1 million in Turkey and Jordan, said Guterres.

Lebanon’s UN Ambassador Nawaf Salam said his country’s borders would remain open to Syrian refugees, even though the conflict was threatening Lebanese security and stability.

He said the Lebanese General Security Directorate puts the number of Syrians in Lebanon at 1.2 million.

“It is as if your country, the United States of America, were going to have an influx of over 75 million refugees, or over twice the population of Canada,” Salam said to US Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo, the council president for July. “Could you imagine the impacts of an influx of such magnitude on your own country?”

‘Crimes against humanity are the rule’

Meanwhile, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic told the Security Council that between March 2011 and the end of April 2013 at least 92,901 people were killed in Syria, of which more than 6,500 were children.

The Security Council has been deadlocked on Syria. Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and China have three times blocked action against Assad that was backed by the remaining veto powers, the United States, Britain and France.

“In Syria today, serious human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity are the rule,” Ivan Simonovic, the assistant secretary-general for human rights, told the UN Security Council on Tuesday.

“[The] extremely high rate of killings ... demonstrates the drastic deterioration of this conflict,” he added.

“Government forces carry on with indiscriminate and disproportionate shelling and aerial bombardments, using among other weapons tactical ballistic missiles, cluster and thermobaric bombs, all cause extensive damage and casualties if used in densely populated areas.
“As a result, hundreds of civilians, including women and children were killed, thousands injured, and tens of thousands displaced.”

He underlined that armed opposition groups have also committed acts of torture, abduction and kidnapping, sometimes along sectarian lines.

Syria’s UN Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari said the UN death toll and refugee figures came from “unprofessional sources” and insisted the Syrian government was doing “everything possible to shoulder its responsibilities to its people and meet basic needs despite economic, political and media pressure”.

He said the government is fighting “terrorism” – its description of opposition fighters.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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