U.N.: Number of Syrian refugees escalating at rapid rate

Story highlights

  • More than 1 million people have fled Syria since civil war began, the U.N. says
  • 8,000 people left each day last month, U.N. official says
  • Surrounding countries are feeling the strain due to the influx of refugees

The number of Syrian refugees could double -- if not triple -- by the end of the year if the crisis continues without change, a U.N. official said Sunday.

Since the civil war began two years ago, more than 1 million have fled the country.

Read more: The plight of Syria's refugees

The number of refugees recorded has gone from 3,000 on average each day in December to 8,000 daily in February, Antonio Guterres, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, said Sunday in Ankara, Turkey.

State of Syria: Exodus reaches 1 million; seesaw battles rage on

"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, two or three times ... the present level."

In December, the U.N.'s Regional Response Plan for Syrian Refugees estimated that 1.1 million displaced Syrians would move to surrounding countries by the end of June. The group now predicts that figure will be exceeded this month.

    Most flee to surrounding countries, such as Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, but they are increasingly going to North Africa and Europe, according to the U.N.

    The influx of Syrian refugees strains the nearby countries, Guterres said. Jordan's energy, health and education services are struggling to accommodate them, and Turkey has put $600 million into its 17 refugee camps, according to the UNCHR.

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    Not all displaced Syrians register as refugees because of fear of repercussions when they return to their home country, or because they don't want to accept aid because of pride.

    Read more: Refugee figures fail to give true picture of Syria crisis

    Members of Jordan's army told CNN's Nick Paton Walsh that they were doing what they could to help the Syrians, but they were overwhelmed.

    Rebel fighters who had led their families to a camp in Jordan talked to Walsh. They said they were going back to fight in Daraa, Syria. One boy said there were men in the cities, but most families were fleeing.

    "You can now count the people left on your fingers," he said. "Syria is emptying."

    See more: Syrian refugees increasingly unwelcome in Jordan

    The unrest in Syria began in March 2011, when the government of President Bashar al-Assad began a brutal crackdown on demonstrators calling for greater political freedoms.

    The protest movement eventually devolved into an armed conflict, one that has devastated cities and towns around the country.