Syrian refugee flood into Lebanon (population 4.5 million) tops 1 million
Nation of 4.5 million marks 'devastating milestone' in fallout from civil conflict
A teenager from central Syria became the one millionth Syrian refugee to register in Lebanon yesterday, a "devastating milestone" for the tiny Arab country with about 4.5 million people of its own, the UN refugee agency said.
Signing up for aid, 19-year-old Yahya recounted his long ordeal. After being trapped by the fighting for more than two years in his native city of Homs, he was evacuated earlier this year and travelled to Yabroud, a rebel-held town near the Lebanese border that soon came under a crushing government offensive.
When staying there was no longer an option, he crossed into Lebanon with his mother and two sisters on March 8. Yahya's father was not with them - he died from sniper fire in Homs in September 2011.
On Thursday, Yahya registered at the UNHCR centre in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli.
"We didn't know where to go. We just wanted to get away from all the shelling and fighting," he said, giving only his first name out of fear his relatives back in Syria would be targeted.
The conflict in Syria, a country with a pre-war population of 23 million, has killed more than 150,000 people, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which documents the fighting through a network of activists on the ground.
The war has uprooted millions of Syrians from their homes. The UN estimates there are now more than 2.5 million Syrians registered in neighbouring countries, with more than 47,700 more awaiting registration. In addition to those, there are hundreds of thousands of Syrians who fled Syria and have not registered as refugees.
Neighbouring Turkey and Jordan, in addition to Lebanon, have taken in most of the refugees.
Three years after Syria's conflict started, Lebanon had become the country with the highest per capita concentration of refugees anywhere in the world in recent history, the UNHCR said. As a result, it was struggling to cope with a crisis that had become an unprecedented challenge for aid agencies.
The one million Syrians were a huge burden for Lebanon, said the UNHCR, which registers 2,500 new Syrian refugees daily in the country - more than one per minute.