Syrian refugee numbers spiralling


The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said yesterday that more than half a million Syrian refugees were either registered or awaiting registration in the region.

The civil war has driven hundreds of thousands of Syrians into neighbouring countries. Lebanon is now host to 154,387 registered Syrian refugees, Jordan has 142,664, Turkey 136,319, Iraq 65,449 and North Africa 11,740, the UNHCR said in Geneva.

In addition, there are more than 1.5 million Syrians who fled violence for safer areas within the country.

Large numbers of Syrians have also crossed into neighbouring countries but have not yet registered for refugee status and assistance, it said. These include about 100,000 in Jordan, 70,000 each in both Turkey and Egypt and tens of thousands in Lebanon, it said, citing government estimates.

Clash near airport

Syrian rebels clashed with forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad near Damascus airport yesterday, battling for the capital’s outskirts after 20 months of conflict which the UN said has driven half a million people from the country.

Fighting near the airport, 20km (12 miles) southeast of Damascus city centre, is part of a broader confrontation between President Assad’s forces and rebels who hold a near-continuous arc of territory from the east to the southwest of his power base.

The centre of the capital, shielded for months from the violence which has killed 40,000 people since March 2011, echoed to the sound of shelling from Monday evening, residents said.

The shelling appeared to be directed from the Qasioun mountain range, overlooking northern Damascus, towards the rebellious southern suburbs.

The mainly Sunni Muslim rebels have made military gains. The rebels seized military bases in the last month and are starting to encircle the capital, where power cuts and food shortages are hurting residents.

The new political opposition coalition is hoping for recognition as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people. France, Britain, Turkey and the Gulf states have already granted the formal recognition. The EU has moved towards recognition and the US has suggested it may do the same. – (Reuters)