GENEVA - More than two million Syrians have now fled their war-ravaged country, the UN refugee agency said Tuesday, lamenting the nearly 10-fold increase 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 UNHCR said in a statement, 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.
A staggering 6.2 million Syrians have thus been torn from their homes - a number without parallel in any other country and representing nearly a third of Syria's pre-war population of 20.8 million.
"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."
The only solace, he said, "is the humanity shown by the neighbouring countries in welcoming and saving the lives of so many refugees."
In the past 12 months, almost 1.8 million people have flooded out of Syria, and an average of 5,000 continue to cross into neighbouring countries each day, UNHCR said, pointing out that on August 23, the number of Syrian children living as refugees topped one million.
The massive influx is placing an overwhelming burden on the host countries, UNHCR warned.
At the end of August, some 716,000 Syrian refugees were registered or in the process of being registered in Lebanon, 515,000 in Jordan, 460,000 in Turkey, 168,000 in Iraq and 110,000 in Egypt, according to the agency's numbers.
"The tide of human suffering unleashed by the conflict has catastrophic implications," lamented US film star Angelina Jolie, who is a UNHCR special envoy to Syria.
"If the situation continues to deteriorate at this rate, the number of refugees will only grow, and some neighbouring countries could be brought to the point of collapse," she said, cautioning that "the world risks being dangerously complacent about the Syrian humanitarian disaster."
Even though the world remains "tragically disunited on how to end the Syria conflict," Jolie insisted "there should be no disagreement over the need to alleviate human suffering, and no doubt of the world's responsibility to do more."
"We have to support the millions of innocent people ripped from their homes, and increase the ability of neighbouring countries to cope with the influx," she said.
UNHCR said it planned to meet in Geneva with ministers from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey on Wednesday in a bid to accelerate international support.