Syria Refugee Crisis Near Dangerous Turning Point

Syria Refugee Crisis Near Dangerous Turning PointSyria Refugee Crisis Near Dangerous Turning Point

Syria's refugee crisis is approaching a "dangerous turning point" as nearly four million Syrians face worsening living conditions in exile, the UN refugee chief warned Thursday.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told the Security Council that "the nature of the refugee crisis is changing" and called for "massive international support" for countries that have opened their borders to fleeing civilians.

"As the level of despair rises, and the available protection space shrinks, we are approaching a dangerous turning point," he told the 15-member council, AFP said in a report.

Close to 12 million people have been displaced by the nearly four-year war in Syria including 3.8 million who have fled to neighboring countries such as Turkey, now the biggest refugee-hosting country in the world.

Guterres warned that almost two million Syrian refugees under the age of 18, many without access to education or jobs, "risk becoming a lost generation" and over 100,000 children born in exile could become stateless.

"If this is not addressed properly, this crisis-in-making will have huge consequences not only for the future of Syria but for the whole region," he said.

The refugee chief pointed to the Kuwait donor conference on March 31 as key to help the region cope with the overwhelming strain on services from the influx.

With Syrians increasingly taking to dangerous boat crossings, Guterres called on European governments to step up its search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

"Since the start of 2015, over 370 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean - that's one person drowning for every twenty who made it," he said.

He warned that thousands more could face death unless Europe decides to "step up its capacity to save lives, with a robust search and rescue operation in the Central Mediterranean."

Pressure on Neighbors

Governments should also step forward to take in refugees with flexible visa policies, expanded family reunification, scholarships and private sponsor schemes, Guterres said.

He praised Germany and Sweden for their help and called on other countries in Europe and the Persian Gulf region to help ease the pressure on Syria's neighbors.

The council was meeting to discuss the Syrian humanitarian crisis as UN envoy Staffan de Mistura was due to hold talks in Damascus on Saturday on his peace efforts.

World's Biggest Host

Turkey has become the country hosting the largest number of refugees in the world amid a "staggering" growth in displacement from Syria, according to Guterres.

The high commissioner said the Syrian refugee crisis had overwhelmed existing response capacities.

"Lebanon and Jordan have seen their populations grow, in the space of a few years, to a point they were prepared to reach only in several decades," said Guterres. "And Turkey has now become the biggest refugee-hosting country in the world."

According to the UN refugee agency, Turkey is hosting over 1.6 million Syrian refugees, who have fled a civil war that has also paved the way for extremist groups such as Islamic State to gain a foothold in the region.

Turkey has said its financial burden emanating from the Syrian conflict has reached $6 billion, while the total contribution it has received stands at $300 million.