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Syrian refugees may double or triple this year: UN

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The number of Syrian refugees, already past the million mark, could double or triple by the end of the year if no solution is found to the conflict, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said Sunday.

Antonio Guterres said the UNHCR could only "mitigate" the suffering of the people but the responsibility to find a solution fell on "those that have political responsibilities."

"Now if this escalation goes on and nothing happens to solve the problem we might have in the end of the year a much larger number of refugees: twice or three times the present level," Guterres told reporters in Ankara.

The warning came days after the UN said the number of Syrian refugees had hit one million, two years after the revolt erupted.

A year ago, the UN agency had only registered 33,000 refugees, but the numbers escalated as the war intensified, sending waves of refugees into neighbouring countries.

"Everything depends whether we'll have or not a political solution," Guterres said. "But we need to be prepared for a very strong increase of the present numbers."

The commissioner said the average daily arrivals in neighbouring countries were on the constant rise as the numbers increased from 3,000 refugees in December to 8,000 in February.

"This shows you the staggering escalation that we are witnessing," he said.

The conflict, which according to UN figures has cost 70,000 lives, needs be stopped while the international community still has the capacity to respond to it, he added.

Guterres is in Turkey to meet officials and discuss the situation of the more than 180,000 refugees who have taken shelter in several camps set up along Turkey-Syria border.

Ankara says the real number is much higher as at least 70,000 others live in houses they have rented elsewhere in Turkey.

"There's a risk of spillover in this conflict...If the Syrian conflict will go on and on and on, there is an effecting risk of explosion in the Middle East," he added.

To protect Turkey from any such spillover, NATO has deployed in Turkey six Patriot missile batteries shipped from Germany, The Netherlands and The United States in January.

The UN official was scheduled to visit a refugee camp in the southeastern city of Gaziantep later in the day to observe the living conditions of the refugees there.

Turkey, a one-time Syria ally now vehemently opposed to President Bashar al-Assad's regime, has also taken in Syrian army defectors who form the core of the Free Syrian Army.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130310/syrian-refugees-may-double-or-triple-year-un