BEIRUT — The number of Syrian refugees, who already total more than 1 million, could double or even triple this year if the conflict continues unabated, the United Nations top refugee official said Sunday.
“If this escalation goes on … and nothing happens to solve the problem, we might have in the end of the year a much larger number of refugees, two or three times the present level,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told reporters in Ankara, Turkey.
On Wednesday, the U.N. announced that the number of Syrian refugees had officially exceeded 1 million. The actual total is much higher, however, as many refugees never register with the U.N.
Thousands of refugees continue to cross Syria’s border each day into neighboring nations, straining host countries’ ability to handle the influx. Bearing the brunt are Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq. Many fear the influx could add to instability in the region. The U.N. official, who was in Turkey to discuss the refugee crisis with Turkish officials, spoke of a “staggering escalation” that shows no sign of halting.
He urged the international community to work toward ending the conflict and said that continued war carries the “risk of an explosion” throughout the volatile region, the Associated Press reported. All diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis and impose a cease-fire have failed.
Inside Syria, more than 2 million people have been displaced from their homes, humanitarian groups say.
The almost two-year Syrian conflict, pitting armed rebels against the government of President Bashar Assad, has left as many as 70,000 dead, according to U.N. estimates.