Middle East

Syria crisis: Humanitarian pressure grows

Aid worker at Zaatri refugee camp near Mafraq on the Jordanian-Syrian border. 21 July 2012
Image caption Jordan has built a new refugee camp on its border with Syria

There has been a sharp increase in humanitarian needs both inside Syria and on its borders, UN and Red Crescent officials say.

The United Nations Refugee agency (UNHCR) is building a new camp for people fleeing to neighbouring Jordan. It should be ready in the next few days.

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent, meanwhile, estimates that there are 1.5 million homeless people inside the country.

Aid workers say Syrians are psychologically unprepared for this situation. "Nothing like this has happened to them for generations," said one.

If the new camp in Jordan - at Zaatri, about an hour's drive from Amman - fills to its capacity of 110,000 people as the UN expects, there will be between 200,000 and a quarter of a million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries.

The rest are in Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq.

"These numbers are big," said one UNHCR official who has worked for several years in Syria but is now based in Geneva.

'Living in schools'

"But what is behind the figures makes them even more shocking. Syrians haven't experienced anything like this for generations.

"They don't want to leave their country. They are completely unprepared for this psychologically."

A senior official with the main aid agency working inside Syria, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), agreed.

"Some homeless people in Damascus are now having to live in schools," said Khaled Erksoussi of SARC, on the phone from Syria.

There was a sharp increase in the number of people living in such temporary accommodation this weekend when it became apparent that between 8,000 and 10,000 residents of the capital were seeking help of this sort.

Image caption Many Syrians have fled across the northern border into Turkey

"They're having to manage by living close to other families," Mr Erksoussi added.

"But these are urban people who are used to life in a big city. They're just not used to cooking together, for example. Some of them have lived for years in apartment blocks not knowing their neighbours. Now they're having to rethink everything."

Figures supplied by the UNHCR show the number of people forced to flee Syria is on the increase.

  • Jordan: 35,000 officially registered with the UN. 1,000 a day arriving (on Sunday 22 July). But the Jordanian government tells the UN there are in fact between 90,000 and 150,000 Syrians inside Jordan - they just have not registered with the UN yet.
  • Lebanon: 30,000 Syrian refugees officially registered with the UN. 18,000 arrived on 18-19 July alone, but are yet to register.
  • Turkey: Camps here are run by the Turkish government, not UN. Ankara says there are 42,000 people in the camps.
  • Iraq: 7,500 - 10,000 Syrian refugees, most in Kurdish areas.

While life in the refugee camps may be harsh and unexpected, the scale of suffering inside Syria appears to be on a much larger scale.

"We estimate that there are one-and-a-half million displaced people throughout the country," said Mr Erksoussi.

"But so far we have only helped about 950,000 of them with some food or medicines."

Volunteers in danger

Mr Erksoussi said he thought that about 10% of the entire Syrian population - or some 2.5 million people - had been directly affected by the conflict. This includes people who have lost their jobs, for example, or families who are hosting the displaced in their homes or flats.

There have been two main international appeals for cash to help the homeless inside and outside Syria. These appeals are separate to aid given directly, for example, by the Turkish government to the refugees in the camps it runs.

The first appeal was by UN agencies and non-governmental charities for refugees outside Syria. It asked for $193m (£124m) and has got approximately 25% of that so far.

The second appeal was for those displaced inside Syria. It asked for $180m and has also reached about a quarter of that target.

"We are urging all the countries who talk so much about caring for Syria to put their money where their mouths are," said Mr Erksoussi.

He said he was also appealing to all those engaged in the conflict to respect the neutrality of his volunteers. He said five Syrian Red Crescent workers had been killed so far.

"That includes one who was sitting in the passenger seat of my car when I was driving. He was shot by an unknown gunman and he died," he said.

"I appeal to everyone. You can ask us for our ID papers in any language you like, but please do not use the language of the gun against unarmed volunteers. There is no need to shoot us."

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