New York - The Syrian refugee crisis is reaching a tipping point as humanitarian appeals remain under funded, and neighbouring countries are struggling to keep up with the flood of refugees, a UN official told the UN Security Council on Thursday.
Antonio Guterres, UN high commissioner for refugees, said that the international community needs to step up efforts to help Syrian refugees warning that the "nature of the refugee crisis is changing".
"As the level of despair rises and the available protection space shrinks, we are approaching a dangerous turning point," Guterres said.
The high commissioner noted that as the neighbouring countries are struggling to accommodate the flood of 3.8 million refugees, many Syrians attempt to make their way to Europe via the Mediterranean.
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Last year, Syrians made up one-third of the 220 000 refugees arriving by boat. He warned that conditions are so unsafe that based on statistics since the beginning of this year, one person has drowned for every 20 refugees who have made it by boat.
"Europe must step up its capacity to save lives or thousands more will die," Guterres said.
Kyung-wha Kang, UN assistant secretary general for humanitarian affairs, called on the council to do everything it can to improve the humanitarian situation, including ensuring access to besieged areas.
She noted that of the 212 000 Syrians living under sieged, the UN could reach only 304 with food aid in January.
"Every month we report on the same violations," Kang said.
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"The numbers change, but the pattern remains the same. The parties to the conflict continue to act with impunity killing and abducting civilians, denying access, removing vital supplies from convoys. This pattern must be broken."
Samantha Power, US ambassador to the UN, told the council that the current humanitarian situation in Syria was the consequence of the actions of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
"He is under insufficient pressure from his backers to do something as simple as let food through," Power said.
She said the US condemns the horrific attacks perpetrated by the Islamic State extremist group, however, she noted that the international community cannot work with Assad to fight them.
"We must remember that the rise of these violent extremist groups in Syria would not have happened without the atrocities perpetrated by the Assad-regime," Power said.