A host of top officials called on the divided UN Security Council to take stronger action to deal with the fallout from the 26 month old civil war in which the United Nations says up to 100,000 people have died.
“The extremely high rate of killings nowadays — approximately 5,000 a month — demonstrates the drastic deterioration of the conflict,” UN assistant secretary general for human rights Ivan Simonovic told a council meeting on Syria.
Nearly 1.8 million people are now registered with the United Nations in countries around Syria and an average of 6,000 people a day are now fleeing, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres added.
“We have not seen a refugee outflow escalate at such a frightening rate since the Rwandan genocide almost 20 years ago,” Guterres said.
More than two million Rwandans fled the mass executions of Hutus in 1994.
He said the gesture of Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and other countries to accept refugees was “saving hundreds of thousands of lives.”
“This crisis has been going on for much longer than anyone feared with unbearable humanitarian consequences,” he added.
UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said the international community may have to consider cross border operations to get aid into Syria. Amos said $3.1 billion was still needed for operations in and around Syria for the rest of the year.
She said four million people inside Syria need assistance and “considerable restraints” have been imposed on aid agencies by the government and opposition groups.
Amos highlighted the Old City in Homs where the government has stepped up a siege in the past month. The UN estimates that 2,500 civilians are trapped.
“Opposition group have so far not enabled them safe passage to leave and the government of Syria has refused to allow agencies to deliver assistance into the Old City,” she said.
Amos appealed for the lifting of bureaucratic obstacles but also the designation of “priority humanitarian routes” and prior notification of military offensives.
Amos said there should be “humanitarian pauses” to allow aid access and “cross-border operations, as appropriate.”
The cross-border aid is controversial as it is opposed by the Syrian government. Russia, President Bashar al-Assad’s key international backer, has also resisted discussion of such operations at the United Nations.
Turkey’s deputy UN ambassador Levent Eler backed the call, however. “The council needs to consider alternative forms of aid delivery, including cross-border operations,” he said.
Eler said the Syria crisis was turning into “the biggest humanitarian tragedy of the 21st century.”
Lebanon’s UN ambassador Nawaf Salam told the meeting that it was now “urgent” for the Security Council to act on the refugee crisis.
“Increasing cross border fire and incursions from Syria in Lebanon are threatening the security and stability of my country,” he told the 15 ambassadors on the council.
Salam said the UN has registered 607,908 refugees in Lebanon but the government estimates the true figure at 1.2 million. He estimated the number would grow 20-fold during 2013.
Lebanon has a population of about four million and he said the influx was the equivalent of 75 million refugees flooding the United States.
Syria’s UN ambassador Bashar Jaafari disputed the UN death toll as “unprofessionally sourced” and criticised the use of an American company to collect data.
But Simonovic said that “rigorous” methods had been used to check a death toll of more than 92,900 given one month ago.
He said each death was checked by name and date and cross checked with at least three sources.
UN leader Ban Ki-moon has since said that “up to 100,000 people” have been killed in Syria.