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Middle East

UN struggles to cope with ‘unrelenting flow’ of families fleeing violence in Syria


The United Nations has said that it was struggling to cope with an “unrelenting flow” of families fleeing violence in Syria, as the number of documented refugees topped 700,000.

Sybella Wilkes, a spokeswoman for the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR, said that the number of families seeking refugee across the border had risen “dramatically”, with more than 3,000 crossing into Jordan on Monday alone. Some 712,000 refugees had registered with the UNHCR or were awaiting registration, though true figures are likely to be much higher as many are wary of making themselves known to authorities. 

Atrocities like the discovery of dozens of bodies in an Aleppo canal who appeared to have been summarily executed, underline the horror they are escaping. An upsurge of violence in Deraa has led entire villages to pack up and leave, according to officials in Jordan, where a new refugee camp is being hastily constructed after 21,000 people arrived in the last week alone.

In Lebanon, where there are no official camps, refugees construct their own tents in shanty communities or take shelter in garages, empty shops and storerooms.

“We have seen an unrelenting flow of refugees across all borders,” said Ms Wilkes. “We are running double shifts to register people. We are trying to clear a backlog of people because the numbers have gone up so dramatically (in Jordan and Lebanon).”

The influx is exacerbated by a funding crisis, with the UN’s appeal for $1.5bn to assist those displaced inside and outside the country only 3 per cent funded. The organisation hopes to plug some of its shortfall at a crucial donor meeting in Kuwait.

Save the Children said the funding shortfall is leaving thousands of families without essential aid. It said its $35.9m programme for Syria is only a third funded so far. Travelling with the aid agency to the Lebanese town of Baalbek, The Independent met with refugees who were struggling to survive after the area was battered by bitter winter storms.

“I left because of my children, they couldn’t sleep, there was shooting, bombing and the stress meant they stopped eating,” said Maryam, who fled from the town of Al Qusair.  “But life is so hard here, we don’t have fuel or electrify and this place leaks heavily.”

The US pledged an additional $155m (£98m) in aid, which it said would be used for immunisation, and buying food and winter supplies. The UK donated a further £21m at the weekend, taking the total provided for humanitarian aid in Syria to £89.5m.

“The relief we send doesn’t say ‘Made in America,’ but make no mistake — our aid reflects the commitment of the American people,” said President Barak Obama.