The United Nations says reports of “increasingly horrifying conditions” inside Syria are to blame for a worsening refugee crisis that has now seen 3 million people flee its borders.
The UN refugee agency said more than double that number are displaced within the country.
More than ever, neighbours Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan are struggling to cope with the influx, claiming hundreds of thousands more Syrians haven’t formally registered as refugees.
But many Syrians say it’s impossible to stay as the civil war rages:
One refugee said: “We couldn’t take it anymore; from being hungry to being cold, being under siege, being bombarded all the time. We saw people die in front of our eyes because of the bombing from both sides. We could no longer stay there. We couldn’t take it; me, my brother, daughter and sister simply couldn’t take it anymore.”
As ordinary families become more desperate to leave, officials and smuggling gangs appear to be cashing in at the border.
“The journey out of Syria is becoming tougher. We have been told that many people are forced to pay bribes at armed checkpoints proliferating along the borders and that the price for smugglers – and many have to resort to the transport using smugglers in order to get out – is becoming very steep,” said Melissa Fleming, head of communications for the refugee agency UNHCR.
The UN warns that the Syrian exodus is its biggest refugee operation ever and has called for more countries to share the cost burden.
It estimates a 2 billion dollar shortfall in funding based on current needs.