As the possibility of an American air strike on Syria increases, the flow of refugees leaving the country has quickened, with 12,000 people arriving in Lebanon on Thursday alone.
Around 700,000 are already there, in a country with a population of four million. It has stretched Lebanon’s ability to take care of them beyond breaking point.
“There is no space left, it is crowded with refugees here. At first they were afraid of the chemical weapons, now they are afraid of the new attack. Everybody flees to this place,” said a Lebanese relief organisation representative.
The situation is becoming so critical that it is alarming the United Nations.
“In Syria we are witnessing the physical destruction of the country, a collapse of many of the state institutions and an enormous suffering of the people – those who have been killed and those who have to flee in all directions,” said Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
“In these circumstances, the most important contribution a country can give to this humanitarian drama is to keep the borders open for those in need of protection.”
Jordan has half a million refugees, Turkey 400,000, and Iraq 150,000. Keeping those frontiers open will be extremely difficult.
“The humanitarian needs are immense. There are acute shortages of vital medical supplies, water, food, especially in areas that have been sealed off for months and
where the IRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent were not granted access,” said the ICRC’s Dibeh Fakhr.
Add to these figures the more than four million people who have been internally displaced within Syria and it adds up to a humanitarian time bomb whose fuse is burning ever shorter.