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Iraq, Syria In The Midst Of A Refugee 'Mega-Crisis'


The man who runs the U.N.'s Refugee Agency now describes the situation in Syria and Iraq as a mega-crisis. As the so-called Islamic State took over territory in both countries, hundreds of thousands of people were forced from their homes, and as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, humanitarian groups are already stretched thin and short of money.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The numbers are staggering - 1.9 million newly displaced people in Iraq this year, hundreds of thousands of Syrians still fleeing across borders. And that's just adding to an already high toll, says the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres.

ANTONIO GUTERRES: Now 13 million people already displaced by the conflict inside Syria, inside Iraq and in countries around, a mega-crisis that is the biggest humanitarian tragedy since I remember.

KELEMEN: Speaking to a small group of reporters in Washington today, Guterres said, ISIS militants are to blame for the latest crisis. He doesn't think targeted U.S. airstrikes have caused many more to flee. Guterres has been talking about all this with U.S. officials and about the possibility of permanently resettling some Syrians here in the U.S. Last year, the U.S. resettled 70,000 refugees from around the globe, though very few from Syria.

GUTERRES: It's the largest resettlement program in the world. The U.S. resettles more people than all the other countries in the world together.

KELEMEN: These days, there more than 51 million refugees in the world. That's more than any time since the end of World War II. Guterres blames this on the fact that old conflicts never seem to die and new ones keep emerging in South Sudan, Central African Republic, even Ukraine. Aid groups like his, he says, are overwhelmed.

GUTERRES: We are under an enormous pressure, as you can imagine. And the idea that conflicts can happen and then the humanitarians will be able to go and clean up the mess - this is no longer true. We no longer have the capacity and the resources.

KELEMEN: The U.N. Refugee Agency says, it's nearly $60 million short of what it needs to help Syrians and Iraqis get ready for this winter. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.