The Syrian civil war has caused the displacement of at least a million people in the last year, adding to a total of more than 3 million that have fled the country since the conflict began, according to new figures released by the United Nations agency for refugees (UNHCR).
The figures indicate the mass exodus of one in every eight Syrians, vying to escape the worsening conflict in their home country where reports of atrocities committed by Islamic State extremists — including public executions, staged crucifixions and beheadings — are emerging almost daily.
"The Syria crisis has become the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era, yet the world is failing to meet the needs of refugees and the countries hosting them," the UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said from the agency's headquarters in Geneva.
"A further 6.5 million are displaced within Syria. Over half of those uprooted are children," a UNHCR statement added.
Islamic State militants are waging a deadly jihadist war in the region, which took a sharp turn in June when the group declared an Islamic caliphate over the areas of land it occupies in both Syria and Iraq. Syrian civilians are shouldering the full impact of the brutal civil conflict that began in March 2011 and has left more than 190,000 dead so far.
This video documents the experience of a woman called Iman, who along with her family was displaced four times inside Syria. She has ended up in a refugee camp in Lebanon. Video via UNHCR.
The ensuing crisis has caused millions of Syrians to seek shelter in neighboring countries, including Lebanon, which currently holds the highest number of refugees at 1,176,971, followed by Turkey with 832,508, and Jordan with 613,252.
The UN says refugees are arriving in these countries in an increasingly appalling condition after being on the run for months or even over a year. Many are also forced to pay smugglers to ferry them across the desert, with no guarantee of their safe passage or arrival.
A further 35,000 people are waiting to be registered as refugees, while even more are not registered, according to UN estimates.
The UN was battled another crisis in Syria today as reports emerged that a group of 72 Filipino peacekeepers were trapped and had begun exchanging shots with Islamist militants in the Golan Heights. They were later rescued after a firefight. "They were safely extracted, nearly three dozen of them," a UN official told Reuters.
The peacekeepers are part of UNDOF, a UN force that has monitored the disengagement frontier between Israel and Syria since 1974, according to Reuters.
Five miles away in the same rocky area, al Qaeda Islamists captured 44 UNDOF peacekeepers from Fiji. Their safety has since been determined.
"I can say now that the negotiations for their release have already begun," Fiji's Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama said, in a statement obtained by AFP.
Syrian rebel groups stormed a border crossing with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on August 27. According to news reports from Reuters, fighting continued in the area on August 30, with fighters surrounding Filipino UN peacekeepers in the Golan Heights. This footage, posted on August 28, shows militants moving into and through the ruined town of Quneitra, close to the border. A black jihad flag is shown flying over a structure in the town.
Amid the escalating violence, the US government is facing increased pressure to commit more direct military force targeting core militant bases in Syria, in addition to its limited airstrike campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq, which began in August.
The recent beheading of American journalist James Foley captured on a video posted online, also seemed to signal a tipping point in Washington where lawmakers from both sides are coming out in support of decisive US military action in Syria.
But President Obama has continued to show restraint and a preference toward a diplomatic solution, saying Thursday that the US is still working on a plan to defeat the Sunni Muslim militant group.
"We don't have a strategy yet," Obama said at a press conference at the White House. "The issue with respect to Syria is not simply a military issue, it's also a political issue."
"It's also an issue that involves all the Sunni states in the region and Sunni leadership recognizing that this cancer that has developed is one that they have to be just as invested in defeating as we are," he said.
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