U.N. says 100,000 refugees fled Syria in August

By John Heilprin

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 4 2012 6:43 a.m. MDT

GENEVA — Some 100,000 refugees fled Syria during August making it by far the highest monthly total since hostilities began, the U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday.

The tide in people fleeing the civil war, a figure that includes both refugees who are registered and those awaiting registration with the Geneva-based U.N. refugee agency, underscores the intensifying violence between the regime of Syria's president, Bashar Assad, and the armed anti-government groups.

The August total represents more than 40 percent of the 234,368 Syrian refugees who, as of the last count on September 2, had fled for surrounding countries since the uprising began 17 months ago.

"If you do the math, it's quite an astonishing number," U.N. refugee agency spokesman Melissa Fleming told reporters Tuesday at the U.N.'s European headquarters in Geneva. "And it points to a significant escalation in refugee movement and people seeking asylum, and probably points to a very precarious and violent situation inside the country."

The refugee agency and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent are continuing to expand their operations to support displaced Syrians and appealing to all nations to take in Syrians who need asylum. There are now more than 80,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey, where the borders remain open, and there is a backlog of some 8,000 Syrians waiting to be processed at the border, Fleming said. Jordan has more than 77,000 Syrian refugees; Lebanon has more than 59,000; and Iraq nearly 18,700, according to the agency.

The U.N.'s World Food Program spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told reporters that her agency is scaling up operations to provide food urgently needed by 1.5 million people this month, mainly in areas where there has been fighting and people made at least temporarily homeless. The fighting has spread to the country's two largest cities, the capital Damascus and the commercial hub of Aleppo, where Byrs said more than 264,000 people are taking shelter in public buildings in the Aleppo region — about 200,000 in rural areas and more than 64,000 in the city proper.

Activists say some 5,000 people were killed in August, the bloodiest month so far in the 17-month-old uprising and more than three times the monthly average. The U.N. children's agency says 1,600 were killed last week alone, also the highest figure for the entire revolt.

The two major activist groups, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees, have raised their total death toll to between 23,000 and 26,000.

The new president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, veteran Swiss diplomat Peter Maurer, met Tuesday in Damascus with Assad, the Geneva-based group said Tuesday. It said Maurer would brief reporters Friday on the outcome of his three-day visit, which began Monday.

Syria's state-run SANA news agency reported that Assad told the Red Cross it was welcome to operate on the ground in Syria "as long as it works in a neutral and independent way."

A fifth meeting of the U.N.-sponsored Syrian Humanitarian Forum — made up of hundreds of nations, regional groups, U.N. agencies and non-governmental organizations — is also planned for Friday in Geneva. At the last meeting in mid-July the operations director for the U.N.'s humanitarian office said its appeal for $189 million to help people inside Syria was only 20 percent funded.

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