More than 3 million Syrians have fled the civil war ravaging their country to become refugees - 1 million of them in the past year alone.
"Syria's intensifying refugee crisis will today surpass a record three million people," the United Nations' refugee agency said in a statement today, adding that did not include hundreds of thousands who fled without registering as refugees.
Less than a year ago, the number of registered Syrian refugees stood at two million, UNHCR said, pointing to reports of "increasingly horrifying conditions inside the country" to explain the surge. It described "cities where populations are surrounded, people are going hungry and civilians are being targeted or indiscriminately killed."
The increasingly fragmented conflict raging in Syria has claimed more than 191,000 lives since erupting in March 2011.
In addition to the refugees, the violence has also displaced 6.5 million people within the country, meaning that nearly 50 percent of all Syrians have been forced to flee their homes, UNHCR said. Over half of all those who have been uprooted are children.
Most of the Syrian refugees have found their way to neighbouring countries, with Lebanon hosting 1.14 million, Jordan 608,000 and Turkey 815,000.
Strain on economies
The strain on the host countries' economies, infrastructures and resources is "enormous", UNHCR stressed, adding that nearly 40 per cent of the refugees were living in sub-standard conditions.
The agency said its work to help the Syrian refugees now marked the largest operation in its 64-year-history.
"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," UN refugee chief Antonio Guterres said. "The response to the Syrian crisis has been generous, but the bitter truth is that it falls far short of what's needed."
Donors have handed over more than $US4.1 billion to help those affected by the conflict, but UNHCR said another $2 billion was needed by the end of this year alone to meet the urgent needs of the refugees.
The UNHCR decried that "increasing numbers of families are arriving (in neighbouring countries) in a shocking state, exhausted, scared and with their saving depleted."
"Most have been on the run for a year or more, fleeing from village to village before taking the final decision to leave," it added, pointing out that for most of the one in eight Syrians who have become refugees, crossing the border was a last resort.