The United Nations says the huge upsurge in the number of civilians fleeing Syria reflects the dramatically deteriorating situation in that country. Aid officials estimate that 2.5 million civilians still inside Syria need humanitarian assistance.
U.N. officials attending the Syrian Humanitarian Forum say civilians are paying the price of displacement, both inside and outside the country, as Syria’s 18-month-long civil war continues to escalate with no end in sight.
In the past 24 hours alone, the U.N. refugee agency reports more than 11,000 Syrian refugees fled to neighboring countries - about 9,000 to Turkey,1.000 to Jordan and 1,000 to Lebanon.
UNHCR Regional Refugee Coordinator Panos Moumtzis says this brings the total number of registered refugees in the region to over 408,000. Newly arrived refugees tell aid workers they fled because civilians in Syria have little or no protection.
“We are very concerned about the fact that many of the refugees, 75 percent of whom are women and children, what they tell us is really of great concern. Stories of insecurity, of increased violence, of feeling their lives being under threat, of having no other choice than to flee, to escape, bringing with them nothing but the clothes they are wearing," said Moumtzis.
Moumtzis says he expects there could be up to 700,000 Syrian refugees needing assistance outside their homeland by early next year. He says the UNHCR does not have the money it needs to provide food, shelter and water for displaced Syrians, as well as psychosocial assistance and other aid. The refugee coordinator says his agency has received only 35 percent of the $487 million it needs to support relief operations through December.
Lack of donor support was a recurring theme throughout the meeting. The U.N. regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, Radhouane Nouicer, says U.N. humanitarian operations inside Syria are less than half funded.
As a conservative estimate, Nouicer estimates that humanitarian assistance should be flowing to 2.5 million people in Syria - about half of whom already have been forced to leave their homes. He cautions that things keep changing as the violence escalates, and the numbers keep growing.
He adds that it is difficult to keep an accurate count of those who need help:
“They move to a place today because they believe it is safe. Tomorrow it becomes a firing line. They go back to their area of origin, or they move to a third place where they feel safer. So it is extremely difficult under the circumstances to have an exact determination of the figures," said Nouicer.
Nouicer says the Syrian government is showing a more flexible attitude regarding the work and movement of U.N. agencies and other humanitarian groups, yet U.N. workers' access to some areas is still a huge problem due to insecurity. He says the warring parties do not respect the neutrality and impartiality of aid workers, and too often impede their work.
The humanitarian coordinator says Syrians both inside and outside the country will face an extremely harsh winter unless governments come up quickly with the money needed to provide relief to the population.