ISTANBUL — United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made an appeal Friday for additional international support for the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled conflict in Syria.
Visiting Syrian refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey, the U.N. chief expressed frustration over the lack of aid for the region's growing humanitarian crisis. With winter now fast approaching and the conflict appearing to be intensifying along with the looming threat of chemical weapons, observers warn that the crisis could become even more dire.
"I therefore call upon and appeal most urgently to the international community, and particularly the countries in this region, to provide on an urgent basis the humanitarian assistance," he said during a stop at Jordan's Zaatari refugee camp along the Syrian border. "We need your caring hands to those helpless people."
Jordan and Turkey have faced the brunt of the humanitarian fallout from the Syrian conflict.
Stopping at a Turkish refugee camp that is home to more than 8,500 Syrians, Ban also voiced anger at the increasing cost of the 21-month conflict and expressed serious concerns about reports that Syrian President Bashar al Assad is planning to use chemical weapons against armed rebels attempting to topple his government, saying it would be an "outrageous crime."
According to Zahid Huque, who is helping to coordinate U.N. humanitarian efforts with the Turkish government, Ankara's ability to meet the growing humanitarian needs is being pushed to the limit.
"So far the winter came a little late, but is now getting very, very strong, and some of the capacity of the camps is actually getting exhausted," said Huque. "The international community needs to put in lots of resources so Turkey can really expand its facilities faster than the rate of influx of the civilians."
Analysts say it would be politically difficult for Ankara to turn away refugees when poorer countries like Jordan are continuing to receive them. But even if Turkey continues with its open-door policy, it is facing new challenges. With the crisis showing few signs of ending and the fighting appearing to intensify, Huque warns that steps must be taken to address the long-term psychological needs of the refugees.
"I think the conflict itself has changed the mindset, as well as staying in a camp for a long time, away from their homes, and the rest of the family," he said. "Although the government is providing very good standards for facilities to stay in, they also need counseling support particularly."
Turkey has introduced controls on refugees entering the country, but insists no refugees are being turned away. The government has spent more than $500 million helping the refugees and made urgent appeals for international assistance.
Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal said there is some frustration at the lack of response to their appeals, and warns that Turkey's ability to provide assistance is not limitless.
"Well, the open-door policy is continuing and we will try and implement it as long as possible, in order [to] help Syrian people who are escaping from persecution, from violence or the threat of violence, or sometimes certain death," he said. "But of course our means are limited, and that is why I was referring to the lack of international assistance. At the moment, we're hosting 136,000 people in 14 camps. What we have been doing is based only on our national resources."
Unal said they especially need cash, as well as containers, tents and blankets. Already thousands of Syrians are living in makeshift camps just across the Turkish border.