migrants, berlin germany.jpg
Photograph: EPA/KAY NIETFELD

Countries should relieve Syria's overburdened neighbours by offering at least 480,000 places for Syrian refugees in the next few years, UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi said Monday.

"A tragedy of this scale demands solidarity beyond funding," the UN high commissioner for refugees said on the fifth anniversary of the start of the Syrian conflict.

The 898,000 Syrians who have applied for asylum in Europe between March 2011 and last December have caused a political crisis in Europe as many countries have shut their borders or have refused to host the refugees.

At the same time, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and North African countries have taken in 4.8 million Syrians.

The strain that this has put on their public services and finances has led Syria's neighbours to manage their borders more restrictively, Grandi noted.

This was leaving thousands of vulnerable people stranded inside Syria, unable to leave the country, he said.

In February, donor countries pledged 5.9 billion dollars in aid for Syrians who suffer inside the war-ravaged country, and for those who have fled.

But more needs to be done, Grandi said.

"Put simply, we need more countries to share the load by taking a greater share of refugees from what has become the biggest displacement crisis of a generation," Grandi said.

Governments around the world have so far pledged 170,000 places for Syrians.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) now hopes that this number will rise to at least 10 per cent of the Syrian refugees currently living in nearby countries, and it is pinning its hopes on an international refugee placement conference on March 30 in Geneva.

UNHCR wants countries to open legal immigration pathways so that refugees no longer have to take dangerous journeys involving boat trips across the Mediterranean and people smugglers.

The 480,000 target could be reached by offering places for permanent resettlement, work and study visas, as well as family reunifications, a UNHCR spokeswoman told dpa.

"If the world fails to work together due to short-term interests, lack of courage and knee jerk reactions to shift the burden elsewhere, we will look back ruefully on this lost opportunity to act with solidarity and shared humanity," Grandi said.

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