The number of Syrians who have sought refuge in neighboring countries of Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq after fleeing violence at home has more than tripled since June to over 300,000, the U.N. refugee agency said on Tuesday.
"The latest figures show a total regional registered population of more than 311,500 Syrian refugees in the four countries, compared to around 100,000 in June," Adrian Edwards, spokesperson for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a press conference in Geneva.
Edwards said the rapid growth in refugee numbers underscores the urgency of a joint appeal made by the United Nations and its humanitarian aid partners last week for $295 million in extra funding for assisting up to an estimated 710,000 Syrian refugees in neighboring countries by the end of this year.
Incidentally, the U.N. and its partners had urged international donors last week to increase their contributions from $193.2 million to $487.9 million for dealing with the refugee crisis stemming from the Syrian conflict. To date, $141.5 million has been received from donors for the inter-agency Regional Response Plan for Syrian Refugees.
"The generosity and hospitality shown by these countries as they struggle to cope with growing numbers of refugees make it essential that the international community provide as much support as possible. Many refugees and the communities hosting them are already running out of resources," Edwards said.
He pointed out that the problems will be compounded with the onset of winter across the region in less than ten weeks from now, and stressed that international agencies engaged in humanitarian efforts in the region "are in a race against time."
"In Jordan, for example, where thousands are living in tents, the average low temperature between mid-November and mid-March is two degrees Celsius. A winterization plan is being developed, but it too requires support and funding," he said.
Jordan is currently housing more than 100,000 Syrian refugees who have either registered or are awaiting registration. The figure denotes a four-fold increase when compared to June. Further, it has been predicted that some 250,000 Syrian refugees will need assistance in Jordan by the end of the year.
Edwards said UNHCR has initiated various programs in Jordan to assist Syrian refugees who are finding it increasingly difficult to live on the local economy as their resources dwindle. The programs, which have already covered more than 55,000 Syrians, include cash assistance and the provision of a package of household items ranging from kitchen sets and mattresses to sanitation items.
Besides, number of registered Syrian refugees and those awaiting registration in Lebanon has mounted to more than 80,000 in recent weeks. The winterization program of UNHCR and its partners in Lebanon aims to provide refugee families and vulnerable Lebanese with fuel for heating, mattresses, blankets and clothes as well as needed refurbishment to accommodations in preparation for the colder months.
Also, it is estimated that there are more than 93,000 registered Syrian refugees in 13 camps set up in Turkey. The revised response plan expects Turkey to host up to 280,000 Syrian refugees by the end of this year.
Edwards noted that Turkey has been seeing an increase in Iraqis, Iranians and Afghans seeking asylum in recent months. He said most of those asylum applications were related to the ongoing crisis in Syria.
The spokesman said the U.N. agency had registered an increase in the number of Syrians of Kurdish origin arriving in Iraq's Kurdistan region, noting that while initially many of those fleeing were single refugees, there has recently been a growing proportion of families seeking refuge.
Fierce fighting is raging in Syria between government forces and armed rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad's regime. More than 18,000 people, mostly civilians, are believed to have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced since the revolt began in March 2011. The conflict is now viewed as a civil war by most of the international community.
The conflict is now threatening to spill over to neighboring nations and is increasingly becoming sectarian in nature. Continued efforts by the international community to find a solution to the crisis have been hampered by a deep divide in the U.N. Security Council, with Russia and China backing the Assad regime and the West opposing it.
by RTT Staff Writer
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