Plea for cash as refugees top 700,000

A surge of violence in Deraa has driven entire villages to flee from Syria, officials in Jordan say. Photo / AP
A surge of violence in Deraa has driven entire villages to flee from Syria, officials in Jordan say. Photo / AP

The United Nations yesterday said it was struggling to cope with an "unrelenting flow" of families fleeing Syria, as the number of documented refugees topped 700,000.

Sybella Wilkes, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said the number of families seeking refuge across the border had risen dramatically, with more than 3000 crossing into Jordan on Monday alone.

Some 712,000 refugees had registered with the UNHCR or were awaiting registration yesterday, though many are wary of making themselves known.

An upsurge of violence in Deraa has driven entire villages to leave, according to officials in Jordan, where a new refugee camp is being hastily built.

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

"We have seen an unrelenting flow of refugees across all borders," said 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."

The influx is exacerbated by a funding crisis, with the UN's appeal for US$1.5 billion ($1.8 billion) in aid only 3 per cent filled. The organisation hopes to raise more at a donor meeting in Kuwait today.

Save the Children yesterday said thousands of families were without essential aid. It said its US$35.9 million programme for Syria was only a third funded so far.

The US pledged a further US$155 million yesterday, which it said would be used for immunisation and food and winter supplies. Britain donated a further £21 million ($39.5 million) at the weekend.

- Independent

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