President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on protesters seeking political change forced 156,000 people to flee their homes last year, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre said.
The conflict is “the most profound social upheaval in Syria since the instability of the 1960s” that subsequently brought the Assad family to power, according to a report today from the Geneva-based organization that has been tracking displacements worldwide since 1998. The estimate includes only those Syrians who have remained within their homeland.
It did not estimate how many people have been forced to leave their homes this year, during which Syrian forces have besieged cities including Homs and Idlib. Neighboring countries say many more Syrians have sought shelter abroad. Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said April 13 that there are about 100,000 Syrian refugees in his country. His Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu, said at the same event that more than 25,000 Syrians are in refugee camps there.
Syria’s government has responded to opposition demonstrations that started peacefully in March 2011 with detentions and attacks on the opposition’s cities. More than 9,000 people have died and 1 million people are in need of immediate humanitarian aid because of the conflict, according to the United Nations.
Kofi Annan, the UN and Arab League’s special envoy to Syria, brokered a peace plan to halt the violence last month. A cease-fire went into effect April 12, easing the conflict without ending the violence.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the Security Council, where Russia and China twice vetoed measures against Assad, to send as many as 300 unarmed observers to monitor the cease-fire between government forces and armed opposition groups. The observers should be “a nimble presence” and visit as many as 10 locations over “a period of weeks,” according to a report he sent to the council.
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