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Syrian refugees number more than 210,000; seven die at sea

August 28, 2012 | 10:12 am

Syrian refugees are becoming an increasingly dire problem, U.N. officials say

Seven Syrians fleeing their country on a fishing boat have died off the north coast of Cyprus, the United Nations refugee agency said Tuesday, in what appears to be a new hazard as refugees pour out of the bloodied nation.

Four men, one woman and two children died as the vessel sank late last week, the U.N. agency said. The deaths at sea are the first such fatalities among Syrian refugees that the agency is aware of, spokesman Adrian Edwards said, though they were not the first Syrians to attempt the trip. Scores of Syrian refugees were reportedly aboard a boat intercepted off Italy earlier this month.

The vast majority of Syrian refugees have fled to neighboring countries by land rather than taking to the seas, Edwards said. About 15,000 Syrians have sought refuge in Europe since the uprising began, he said, a fraction of the more than 210,000 Syrians now registered as refugees or waiting to register.

The flow of refugees has turned into a deluge in recent weeks as violence has intensified, the U.N. says. Last week, more than twice as many Syrians surged into the Jordanian refugee camp of Zaatri than the week before, officials said. Growing numbers of unaccompanied children are among them.

The outpouring is even more dramatic at the Turkish border, where up to 5,000 people are arriving every day, a tenfold increase over previous weeks, officials said.

Turkey is scrambling to build more camps to hold up to 150,000 people, but says it is reaching its breaking point, with thousands of people stranded on the Syrian side of the border waiting to come in. Its foreign minister pleaded Monday for other countries to help it shoulder the burden.

In Turkey, "the numbers are so much larger that it takes time to get people in," Edwards said. "And with the large numbers and the security environment, the authorities also have a mind to the security risk."

Others have fled their homes but are still inside Syria, where many of the displaced are taking shelter in hundreds of schools. With schools due to resume classes in less than three weeks, new shelters will be urgently needed, the U.N. refugee agency said.

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Syrian children lie on the ground Sunday while they and others take refuge at the Bab Salameh border crossing in hopes of entering a Turkish refugee camp. Credit: Muhammed Muheisen / Associated Press

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