DAMASCUS - More than two million Syrians have now fled their country, the UNHCR said Tuesday, as top US officials pressed a robust bid to secure Congress' support for military strikes against the Damascus regime.
The UN refugee agency's grim statistics come as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad warned that Western military action against him risked igniting a regional war and bringing chaos across the Middle East.
The UNHCR, in a statement released in Geneva, lamented that the number of Syrian refugees had increased nearly ten-fold from a year ago.
"Syria is haemorrhaging women, children and men who cross borders often with little more than the clothes on their backs," the statement said, pointing out that on September 3, 2012, it had registered just 230,671 Syrian refugees.
In addition to the two million Syrians living as refugees, some 4.25 million people have been displaced within the devastated country since the conflict began in March 2011, according to UN figures.
"Syria has become the great tragedy of this century," UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said in a statement, describing the situation in the country as "a disgraceful humanitarian calamity with suffering and displacement unparallelled in recent history."
Correspondents and witnesses have reported an even greater exodus of Syrians into neighbouring countries since US President Barack Obama warned last week he was ready to launch military strikes on Assad's regime over its alleged use of chemical weapons.
Obama shocked Washington and the world on Saturday when he decided to seek support for military action in Syria from Congress, putting his plans on hold and effectively giving more time for civilians to leave the country.