Dec. 12 (UPI) -- The United Nations refugee agency said as many as 250,000 Syrian refugees could return home as its eight-year civil war continues to wind down.
Amin Awad, the director for the Middle East and North Africa of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), made the statements during a news conference Tuesday.
"As the situation in Syria improves, some of these refugees are making the journey home," Awad said, according to Iran-owned Press TV. "We are forecasting, in what we call phase one, up to 250,000 Syrians go back in 2019. That figure can go up and down according to the pace with which we are working and removing these obstacles to return."
Roughly 5.6 million Syrian refugees are living in nearby countries like Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq.
Awad's comments came as the U.N. and several non-governmental organizations announced a $5.5 billion plan to support refugees in neighboring countries. Some of the money will go for educational efforts for refugee children, give cash assistance, provide protection and health services and improve their economic opportunities.
"It is critical that the international community continues to recognize the plight of Syrian refugees and provides vital support to host governments and [Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan] partners to help shoulder this massive burden while waiting for the voluntary return in safety and dignity," Awad said in a statement.
The U.N. said one million Syrian children have been born in exile to refugees since the civil war began in 2011.
"Communities in the region hosting refugees from Syria have shown tremendous generosity, yet are increasingly themselves under strain," said Mourad Wahba, assistant secretary-general and director of the U.N. Development Program's Regional Bureau for Arab States.
"As an international community, we must do our utmost to show solidarity with these vulnerable hosts who are giving so much despite themselves having to make ends meet," he said.