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Syrian refugees pass through the Turkish Cilvegozu gate border on Aug. 31. (Associated Press) Syrian refugees pass through the Turkish Cilvegozu gate border on Aug. 31. (Associated Press)

Syrian refugees pass through the Turkish Cilvegozu gate border on Aug. 31. (Associated Press)

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg September 3, 2013

McCain says a million children are refugees from Syrian civil war

Most of the debate over a military strike on Syria involves broad strategic questions about stability in the region and defining clear goals for dropping bombs and launching missiles. But one strong supporter of the use of force brought in another factor -- refugees.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has long argued for greater military engagement in Syria on moral grounds, among other reasons.

"It's shameful, while a million children are now refugees, " McCain said on CBS’ Face the Nation.

We didn’t think McCain had the number of refugees wrong. We were simply struck that it was so high.

In the past 24 hours, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, announced that the number of refugees had crossed the 2 million mark. For a country with a population of 22.5 million, that means close to 10 percent of its people are in camps or with families outside its borders.

António Guterres, the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees, called it "a disgraceful humanitarian calamity with suffering and displacement unparalleled in recent history."

The UNHCR reports that more than half of the registered refugees are children. So McCain’s figure is accurate.

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If anything, it undercounts the scope of the turmoil. Peter Garrett with the British Red Cross said this only tallies people who have registered with the UNHCR.

"We know there are people who will not have registered for support, for many reasons. They may be afraid of any form of authority or of registering their status," Garrett told CNN.

The surrounding countries are strained to deal with the outflow. Lebanon has taken in more refugees than any other country, about 720,000. Jordan is not far behind with over half a million, followed by Turkey.

In addition, the UNHCR reports said an estimated 4.25 million Syrians have been displaced inside their country. This would mean the conflict has forced nearly one out of every four persons from their homes.

With almost all refugees dependent on international organizations for food, blankets and medical people care, the UNHCR is calling for $2.9 billion in aid to meet their needs. Over 1 million new people left Syria in the first five months of 2013. The UNHCR said if current trends continue, the refugee count will top 3 million by the end of this year.

Our ruling

McCain said the Syrian civil war has turned 1 million children into refugees. More than 2 million people have registered with the UNHCR as refugees and over half of them are children.

We rate the claim True.

Our Sources

U.N. High Commission on Refugees, Syrian refugees - data

U.N. High Commission on Refugees,Press release: 2 million refugees, Sept. 3, 2013

CNN, Number of Syrian refugees rises above 2 million, U.N. agency says, Sept. 3, 2013

New York Times, McCain calls for U.S.-led airstrikes against Syria, March 5, 2012

Central Intelligence Agency, World Fact Book - Syria

Al Jazeera, UN: Syrian refugee numbers cross two million, Sept. 3, 2013

ITV, Two million refugees flee Syria, Sept., 3, 2013

L.A. Times, Number of Syrian refugees surpasses 2 million, U.N. says, Sept. 3, 2013

BBC, Syrian refugees fear escalation of violence as US mulls action, Sept. 2, 2013

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McCain says a million children are refugees from Syrian civil war

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