Homs, Syria
Children play in the rubble of Homs, Syria. Reuters

In war zones as chaotic as Syria’s, getting that facts on the true scope of the turmoil can be a daunting task.

The death toll now stands at 38,000, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, but this is just one of many estimates put forth by various organizations with different data collection methods, not to mention different biases. The number of Syrian refugees has surpassed 408,000, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), but this too is suspect since so many flee the country surreptitiously.

On Wednesday, another sobering statistic emerged from the chaos, shedding new light on what may be the most elusive statistic of all: the amount of displaced persons within Syria itself.

According to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, or SARC, a total of 2.5 million people have been uprooted from their homes since the crisis began in March 2011. These Syrians suffer not only a lack of permanent shelter, but also a lack of cover as regime forces bombard towns and villages across the country.

The Syrian Red Crescent is a humanitarian non-profit agency founded in Damascus in 1942 and absorbed into the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1946.

Melissa Fleming, head spokesperson for the UNHCR, explained at a news conference on Tuesday why displacement has been so difficult to quantify.

“The figure [SARC is] using is 2.5 million. If anything, they believe it could be more; this is a very conservative estimate," she said, according to Reuters.

"So people are moving, really on the run, hiding. They are difficult to count and access.”

These millions of internationally displaced persons, commonly referred to as IDPs, are facing a wide range of scenarios. Some have found lodging with friends and family, but others are not so lucky and have to rely on limited resources in the community.

Many IDPs have been forced to take cover in schools, mosques, and other community centers that were not designed to act as shelters. Whole families often share small spaces with strangers, with no clue as to when Syria’s bloody conflict will end, or where they will go once it does.

Even humanitarian workers themselves are not immune. The BBC reports that a SARC warehouse was shelled recently in Aleppo, destroying thousands of blankets that would have been immensely valuable to displaced families as the cold weather worsens.

Fighting on the ground in Syria shows no signs of letting up soon, but slow progress abroad may offer some hope. A new Syrian opposition coalition in exile was formed this week, and has been recognized as Syria’s interim government by six countries so far, including France. The coalition will now focus on forging a connection with Syria’s rebel movement and helping to organize its efforts.

Meanwhile, the international community is pledging increased humanitarian aid and entertaining bolder ideas about intervention. The regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is almost certain to be ousted eventually – but until that happens, the ongoing chaos will displace more and more Syrians as the death toll rises.

The UN estimates that up to 4 million Syrians will be in need of aid during the coldest months of the coming winter.