Eleven thousand refugees have poured out of Syria in just 24 hours, a staggering number as violence surges near the border, the United Nations refugee agency said Friday.
The Friday deluge is more than triple the usual numbers of 2,000 to 3,000 people escaping daily, agency spokeswoman Sybella Wilkes said. Nine thousand Syrians fled to Turkey alone, most of them reaching the border overnight. The numbers were nearly enough to fill a typical refugee camp.
The rest of the day's refugees went to Jordan and Lebanon.
Vast, sudden waves of refugees usually mean the violence raging in Syria has veered especially close to one of its borders, Wilkes said. Scores of refugees showed up wounded over the last 24 hours; two have died.
“The numbers are increasing by the hour,” Wilkes said. “The Turkish government says it can take weeks or even months to build a camp. But it can take only hours to fill them.”
A Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of government rules, told the Associated Press that most were escaping fighting in the towns of Harem and Ras al-Ayn. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition group based in London, reported rebels had stormed Ras al-Ayn and taken over the military and security forces, killing at least 20 members of Syrian security forces and capturing others.
"The fate of the captured governor and 25 police officers are still unknown," the group said on Facebook.
The Anadolu state news agency in Turkey reported more than two dozen Syrian soldiers, including two generals, were among the thousands of people who had fled to Turkey with their families. Turkish media showed people parting and climbing over barbed wire to cross the border.The outpouring brings the number of Syrians registered or waiting to register as refugees to more than 408,000 people; the total number who have fled is believed to exceed 700,000 people. On top of that, the U.N. estimates at least 1.2 million people are displaced inside Syria.
As winter draws nearer, the refugee agency and other aid organizations are alarmed to have received only 35% of the money needed to help Syrian refugees scattered across the region. The total budget they had planned comes to nearly $488 million.
The shortfall puts refugees at risk as temperatures plunge, Wilkes said. “We need to winterize tents, to get heaters and extra blankets,” she said. “We’re not looking at luxury -- we’re looking at life-saving support here.”
The desperation is evident in other news of the continued crisis: At the Zaatari camp in Jordan, Syrian women told the World Food Program they had gone without food for two days to reach the border. Iraq, once considered a country of last resort because it was still reeling after its own war, now holds close to 50,000 Syrian refugees, the U.N. estimates.
In all, more than 2.5 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian aid, the U.N. estimates. The number is only expected to soar higher if the crisis is not quelled, officials have warned.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Syrians cross through barbed wire as they flee to Turkey on Friday after clashes between Syrian rebels and government soldiers. Credit: Veli Gurgah / European Pressphoto Assn. / Anadolu Agency.