(NEW YORK) — The UN High Commission on Refugees chief António Guterres spoke to the UN Security Council on Wednesday and warned that a “moment of truth” was approaching in Syria.
Noting that the refugee crisis is “accelerating at a staggering pace,” Guterres told the council that the international community could not allow the situation in the embattled country to deteriorate any further, and that the resulting disaster could “overwhelm the international response capacity — political, security related and humanitarian.”
“This must not be allowed to happen,” he stressed.
The head of the UNHCR also explained just how much the refugee crisis had already escalated. In April of 2012, about a year after the crisis began, there were only 33,000 registered refugees in the region.
“As of [Monday], we had registered — or given out registration appointments — to 940,000 Syrians across the Middle East and North Africa,” he said, adding that since early January, more than 40,000 people had fled Syria every week.
Within Syria, an estimated 2 million are internally displaced and more than 4 million are affected by the fighting. Three quarters of the refugees are women and children.
“The children pay the hardest price of all,” Guterres said. “Thousands of young lives have been shattered by this conflict and the future generation of an entire country is marked by violence and trauma for many years to come.”
“Countries of asylum have been very generous and kept their borders open, but their capacity to do so is under severe pressure,” said the High Commissioner.
Guterres concluded that the situation in Syria was likely to “deteriorate further before it gets any better,” and that if the international community failed to prevent these worst-case scenarios, it would need to further step up its humanitarian response.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Alanna Petroff, CNN
Sugam Pokharel and AJ Willingham, CNN