UN agency alarmed by state of Syrian refugees

Thousands of people who have fled the besieged Syrian town of Qusayr are in dire need of aid, the UN's Geneva-based refugee agency said Friday, as its tally for Syrians who have escaped their war-torn nation topped 1.6 million.

UN Refugee Agency spokesman Dan McNorton told reporters that at least 3,500 people — mostly women and children — had made it to the nearby town of Hasiya.

An emergency aid team that visited the area found families staying in three schools, an unfinished building, and in tents donated by local people.

"UNHCR was able to witness the dire humanitarian situation of these displaced families," said McNorton.

"Due to the poor sanitation and hygiene conditions in which people were living, many, especially children, were suffering from diarrhoea, respiratory problems, high fevers, ear infections and skin diseases. The nearest clinic is forty minutes away," he said.

A further 3,000 refugees from Qusayr have been registered in neighbouring Lebanon, though the actual number fleeing is likely to be higher, he underlined.

Control of the border town is essential for the rebels as it is their principal transit point for weapons and fighters from Lebanon.

Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah sent almost 1,700 fighters to Qusayr more than a week ago to support the Syrian regime's assault on the rebel stronghold, stoking fears that the country's civil war could spill across its borders.

Syrians have flooded out of their country since March 2011, when a crackdown on protests against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad heralded the start of an armed rebellion.

Numbers snowballed as the conflict morphed into a sectarian civil war, and the total topped 1.6 million this week, said McNorton.

Most have fled to neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.

In addition to the 1.6 million refugees, the UN says more than 4.25 million Syrians are displaced within Syria.

That means that, all told, over a quarter of Syria's pre-war population of 22.5 million have fled their homes since the conflict began.

The death toll has surpassed 90,000, according to the UN.

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Unrest in Burundi sparks exodus of 100,000: UN

More than 100,000 Burundians have fled to neighbouring countries since political violence erupted in April, the Geneva-based United Nations Refugee Agency said on Friday, as the country reeled from a foiled coup attempt.

Unrest in Burundi sparks exodus of 100,000: UN
UN Refugee Agency's headquarters in Geneva. Photo: Jungpionier/Wikimedia Commons

Refugee agency spokeswoman Karin de Gruijl said nearly 70,200 people had fled to Tanzania, 26,300 to Rwanda and nearly 10,000 to the South Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The number was more than double the figure provided by UNHCR a week ago.
The announcement came after an attempt to overthrow Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza ended in failure, with coup leaders detained or being forced to go on the run, ending uncertainty over who was in charge of the small, landlocked and impoverished nation.
The country has been gripped by political crisis over Nkurunziza's controversial bid to stand for a third consecutive term in office.
More than 25 people have been killed and scores wounded since late April, when Burundi's ruling CNDD-FDD party — which has been accused of intimidating the opposition and arming its own militia — nominated Nkurunziza to stand for re-election in June 26th polls.
De Gruijl said the increased unrest in the country had sent many fleeing to neighbouring Tanzania.