Syrian refugees top 3 million, says U.N. agency

BY Larisa Epatko  August 29, 2014 at 3:49 PM EST
A Syrian refugee child eats food that her mother collected from a trash can at Eminonu Pier in Istanbul, Turkey on Aug. 18. Photo by Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

A Syrian refugee child eats food that her mother collected from a trash can at Eminonu Pier in Istanbul, Turkey on Aug. 18. Photo by Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

The number of Syrian refugees seeking safety in other parts of the world has surpassed 3 million, making it the “biggest humanitarian emergency of our era,” said Antonio Guterres, head of the U.N. refugee agency, on Friday.

Syrians fleeing the civil war, which began in March 2011, are arriving in other countries exhausted, scared and without any money. Many have had to pay bribes at checkpoints along the borders.

“Refugees crossing the desert into eastern Jordan are being forced to pay smugglers hefty sums (US $100 a head or more) to take them to safety,” the agency said in a statement.

Most refugees are in Lebanon (1.14 million), followed by Turkey (833,000) and Jordan (608,000). About 139,000 are in Egypt and 214,000 are in Iraq. Another 6.5 million Syrians — more than half of which are children — have been uprooted from their homes and now are hunkered down elsewhere in the war-torn country.

According to Oxfam International, only about 5,000 Syrian refugees have been resettled in other nations besides those neighboring Syria, whose resources are being stretched thin.

In April, Guterres told PBS NewsHour that the sheer number of refugees is having broader impacts in the region.

“It’s not only a terrible tragedy for the Syrians. It’s becoming an enormous threat to the stability of the region and a global threat to peace and security,” he said. Watch his full interview below:

See more details about the Syrian refugees on the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees’ website.