Damascus (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The number of people displaced by the Syrian crisis has exceeded three million and the massive humanitarian emergency this has provoked is likely to worsen in the near future. This is according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which described what is taking place in the Arab country as "the greatest humanitarian crisis of our era"; almost half of the population has been forced to flee their homes since the conflict began. The vast majority have fled to neighboring countries, with more than 1,140,000 hosted in refugee camps in Lebanon.
Since March 2011 - when the crackdown on protests against President Bashar al-Assad began - more than 190 thousand people have been killed. Over three years the situation has spiraled into civil war and now worsened even more with the appearance of extremist militias of the Islamic State, which now controls large portions of territory in Syria and in neighboring Iraq.
According to estimates made by experts of the United Nations, at least one in every eight people have crossed the Syrian border, while 6.5 million are internally displaced persons, half of them children. On crossing the border, families arriving in refugee camps are in a desperate, exhausted and frightened; many have also spent more than a year wandering from village to village in search of shelter within the country. Compounding the situation, the presence of armed gangs who demand bribes or kidnap refugees.
According to the latest data, the Syrian refugees in Lebanon total 1,175,504; 832,508 in Turkey; 613,252 in Jordan; 215,369 in Iraq; 139,090 in Egypt; 23,367 in North Africa and a further 6.5 million are internally displaced.
The head of UNHCR Antonio Guterres said that "the Syrian crisis has become the most serious humanitarian crisis of our time", but the international community "has not been able so far to meet the needs of refugees and the countries that welcome them". He adds that the response to the humanitarian tragedy is "generous", but nevertheless "it is far inferior to their real needs".
The UN's deputy humanitarian chief, Kyung-wha Kang, said Islamic State was taking violence against civilians in Syria "to a new level" and threatening aid operations in the country. But US President Barack Obama insisted Thursday that the West would not contemplate working with President Assad against the extremist group.