Syria exodus ‘worst since Rwanda’

5,000 people die each month as brutal war rages on, U.N. says

AFP-JIJI

Each month, 5,000 people are dying in Syria’s civil war — which has now generated the worst refugee crisis since the 1994 Rwandan genocide, U.N. officials said Tuesday.

A host of top officials called on the divided U.N. Security Council to take stronger action to deal with the fallout from the 2-year-old conflict, in which up to 100,000 people are believed to have been killed.

“The extremely high rate of killings nowadays — approximately 5,000 a month — demonstrates the drastic deterioration of the conflict,” said Ivan Simonovic, the U.N. assistant secretary-general for human rights.

“In Syria today, serious human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity are the rule,” Simonovic said.

Nearly 1.8 million people are now registered with the U.N. in countries around Syria and an average of 6,000 people a day are now fleeing, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said. “We have not seen a refugee outflow escalate at such a frightening rate since the Rwandan genocide almost 20 years ago,” Guterres added.

More than 2 million Rwandans fled the 1994 genocide, in which radical Hutus killed some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in a period of about three months.

U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said the international community may have to consider cross-border operations to get aid into Syria.

Amos added that $3.1 billion was still needed for operations in and around Syria for the rest of the year. She said 4 million people inside Syria need assistance and “considerable restraints” have been imposed on aid agencies by the government and rebel groups.

Amos highlighted the old city area of Homs, where the government has stepped up a siege in the past month. The U.N. estimates that 2,500 civilians remain trapped there. “Opposition groups 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.

Turkey, a staunch supporter of the rebels, backed the call for such aid. “The council needs to consider alternative forms of aid delivery, including cross-border operations,” Turkey’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Leven Eler, said.

Eler said the Syria crisis was turning into “the biggest humanitarian tragedy of the 21st century.”

Lebanon has a population of about 4 million, and he said the influx was the equivalent of 75 million refugees flooding the U.S.

Syria’s ambassador to the U.N., Bashar Jaafari, disputed the U.N. death toll as “unprofessionally sourced” and criticized the use of a U.S. firm to collect data. But Simonovic said “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. U.N. leader Ban Ki-moon has since said that up to 100,000 people have been killed in Syria.