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UN Reports Sharp Rise in Syrian Refugees

Newly arrived Syrian refugees wait their turn to receive mattresses, blankets and other supplies, and to be assigned to tents, at the Zaatari Syrian refugees camp in Mafraq, near the Syrian border with Jordan, Jan. 28, 2013.
The U.N. refugee agency reports a sharp rise in the number of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries. The UNHCR says it now has registered more than 700,000 refugees, with most of the newly arrived crossing into Lebanon and Jordan.

U.N. refugee spokesman Adrian Edwards says the desperate security and living conditions in Syria, especially in the town of Deraa, are prompting people to just pick up their things and flee.

“Numbers are never the right way to tell the story of the impact on so many lives of a situation like this that is happening in Syria," he said. "Nonetheless, they are so dramatic that they speak louder than anything else at the moment. We are looking at possibly a million people having become refugees from Syria by the middle of 2013. And, at the moment, in the absence of a political solution, there still is not an indication of any letup.”

Syrian Refugees by Country

Syrian Refugees by Country:

  • Lebanon: 228,936
  • Jordan: 222,762
  • Turkey: 163,161
  • Iraq: 79,469
  • Egypt: 14,375

Source: UNHCR
To highlight the dramatic increase in refugees, Edwards notes there were 515,000 registered as of December 12. That figure has gone up by almost 200,000 in the space of a few weeks. And, even these numbers, he says, underestimate the true extent of the exodus.

Edwards says countries in the region are reporting the presence of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who have not come forward to be registered and to receive assistance.

The UNHCR spokesman says the situation is overwhelming and UNHCR staff is working overtime to try to keep pace with the sheer numbers of people waiting to be registered. He says the stories people tell of life in Syria are uniformly terrible.

“People over a number of months have spoken of difficulties in crossing, access difficulty, the security problems," he said. "We have people coming across injured. People have had to flee their homes without any ability to bring much with them. So, they are more or less empty-handed when they arrive. In many cases, there are medical needs.”

Edwards says the UNHCR is doing what it can to help these people. For example, Za’atri camp in Jordan hosts between 50,000 and 60,000 Syrian refugees. He says the agency is running several hospitals and clinics there. In addition to basic health care, he says the refugees are in need of tents and so much more to help them survive their difficult situation.

And, he says, all this takes money, which is in short supply. The UNHCR’s share of the United Nations’ joint $1 billion appeal for Syrian refugees is nearly $494 million. The UNHCR has received about 22 percent of that.

Edwards says donors are being generous. Money is coming in. But, the problem, he says, is that the money is just not coming in quickly enough.