The number of children who have fled Syria since the conflict began is greater than the entire of population of the state of Delaware, according to the United Nations.
The UN statement released today offered yet another lens into the extent of devastation in Syria, as the conflict there draws renewed international scrutiny following allegations that the government forces used chemical weapons in an attack on rebels that killed hundreds of people.
In total, about two million refugees have left Syria since the conflict began in mid-2011, according to the joint statement from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and UNICEF, the UN program for humanitarian aid to children.
“This one millionth child refugee is not just another number,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said in the statement. “This is a real child ripped from home, maybe even from a family, facing horrors we can only begin to comprehend.”
The international community has struggled to arrive at a uniform response to the conflict in Syria, though allegations of chemical weapons could, if confirmed, turn the tide toward a more active intervention. U.S. President Barack Obama said last year that the use of chemical weapons was a “red line,” and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius recently suggested the use of force was on the table—though he ruled out ground troops—if Wednesday’s allegation are confirmed.
UN inspectors are in Syria investigating previous claims of gas attacks, and the U.S., concluding on its own that the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad had used chemical weapons, began supplying rebels with weapons in June.
But the UN says international humanitarian efforts in Syria, including providing water, education, health care, and registration papers, already mark the largest such operation ever. Humanitarian organizations have ensured education for more than 118,000 children, provided water supplies to more than 222,000 people, and registered all 1 million children, preventing them from becoming stateless, according to the joint statement.
UNHCR and UNICEF are calling for more than $5 billion in funding, including $3 billion for the Syria Regional Refugee Response plan for 2013. That project, which joins UNHCR with 126 partner organizations, is only 38 percent funded to date.
At least 100,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict, UN chief Ban Ki Moon said last month, including 7,000 children. Another 2 million children have been internally displaced within Syria.
Syria’s refugees have flowed into neighboring countries at dizzying rates. To date, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have each absorbed about half a million Syrians, and UNHCR predicts they will each have 1 million refugees by the end of the year.
The Zaatari refugee camp has become the 4th largest city in Jordan, where as many as 3,000 Syrians stream in every day. Another camp, capable of housing 130,000 refugees, is going up in al-Azraq, east of Amman.
“All of the worst-case scenarios that we had for the situation in Syria and the number of people coming into Jordan were continually passed,” Andrew Harper, the top liaison between UNHCR and the Jordanian government, told Time reporter Andrew Katz.
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