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Syria Refugees Top 3 Million; Half of Population Displaced in 'Biggest Humanitarian Emergency of Our Era'

( [email protected] ) Aug 31, 2014 09:09 PM EDT

Syrian Refugees
Newly-arrived Syrian refugees carry their belongings as they walk at Azraq refugee camp near Al Azraq area, east of Amman, August 19, 2014. (Reuters)

The number of people who have fled Syria has hit an estimated 3 million Friday, and a further 6.5 million are believed to be displaced within the war-torn country, the U.N. refugee agency said.

According to the agency, almost half of all Syrians have been forced to leave their homes amid the roughly three-year conflict, and one in eight has fled across the border. ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria -- has captured large portions of northern and eastern Syria for what it says is its new Islamic caliphate. An independent U.N. commission says the group is systematically carrying out widespread bombings, beheadings and mass killings that amount to crimes against humanity in both areas.

"The Syrian crisis has become the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era, yet the world is failing to meet the needs of refugees and the countries hosting them," Antonio Guterres, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, said in a news release Friday.

Last week, the U.N. said it had documented the killings of 191,369 men, women and children in Syria from March 2011 to the end of April 2014 in what U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called a "wholly avoidable human catastrophe."

Refugees "are arriving in a shocking state, exhausted, scared and with their savings depleted," the U.N.'s refugee agency said. "Most have been on the run for a year or more, fleeing from village to village before taking the final decision to leave."

Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie, who serves as UNHCR special envoy, stated, "Three million refugees is not just another statistic. It is a searing indictment of our collective failure to end the war in Syria."

Reuters reports that most of the refugees are in countries neighboring Syria, including Lebanon (1.14 million), Jordan (608,000) and Turkey (815,000). Governments estimate that hundreds of thousands more are in their countries but unregistered.

Donors have given more than $4.1 billion to help, but more than $2 billion more is needed by the end of 2014, including to help more than 2.4 million people prepare for the winter, the U.N. said.

More than 80% of the refugees are struggling to make a living in communities outside of camps, and more than a third are living in substandard shelters, the U.N. said.

"The response to the Syrian crisis has been generous, but the bitter truth is that it falls far short of what's needed," Guterres said.