As of Friday, 3 million Syrian refugees have fled their country to escape the civil war there, in what U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres called “the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era.”
The grim milestone comes a day after President Obama indicated that U.S. action in Syria is not imminent. “We don’t have a strategy yet,” he said. “I think what I’ve seen in some of the news reports suggests that folks are getting a little further ahead of where we’re at than we currently are.” Press Secretary Josh Earnest later clarified that the president’s comment applied only to Syria. Earlier this week, an anonymous U.S. official told the Associated Press that Obama had approved surveillance flights over Syria, which would provide intelligence for any possible military action in the country.
Recent developments have accelerated the rate of refugees leaving Syria, as increasingly extreme Islamist groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and Jabhat al-Nusra consolidate power and expand their reach. The number of Syrian refugees abroad doubled in the past year, having reached 1.5 million in June 2013.
The mass exodus of Syrians has placed an extraordinary burden on neighboring countries, especially Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, each of which have taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees. None had the infrastructure to deal with the influx, which has created social, political, and economic pressure on these host countries.
And the price tag of the operation to support the Syrian refugees is unprecedented: $3.7 billion, according to the U.N. Less than half of that amount has been delivered so far, according to U.N. data, leaving a gap of more than $2 billion that has yet to be met. “The world is failing to meet the needs of refugees and the countries hosting them,” Guterres said in his Friday statement.