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28 FEB 2013

Syria crisis spiralling out of control: flood of refugees overwhelming aid effort

Aid money pledged must be quickly released to address urgent needs, says Oxfam

Syria’s humanitarian crisis is spinning out of control, leaving relief agencies overstretched and struggling to cope with a massive surge in refugee numbers and with promised funds still yet to arrive on the ground, warns international agency Oxfam.

Some 5,000 refugees are fleeing Syria every day, a 36 per cent increase from December last year. Many are wearing just the clothes on their backs. The UN’s “worst-case scenario” forecast that more than one million refugees will have fled Syria by June is likely to be realised within weeks.  

Although US$1.5 billion for the Syria humanitarian response was promised at a donor conference in Kuwait last month, only 20 per cent of funding has been received.

“The humanitarian crisis is worsening day by day, leaving agencies struggling to provide help that is desperately needed”, said Francis Lacasse, Oxfam’s Syria crisis response manager.  “Money that was generously promised a month ago is urgently needed now, to allow agencies to continue providing basic services like food, water and shelter, to ever-growing refugee populations.

“More than five thousand people are fleeing Syria into neighbouring countries every day, placing a massive burden on the host communities and with the potential to undermine stability in the region,” said Lacasse.

Since the conflict began almost two years ago, more than 925,000 Syrians have fled the conflict.  Inside Syria, where more than two million more have been displaced from their homes, the costs of basic commodities have increased; health facilities have been damaged or destroyed; and contaminated water supplies have resulted in an increase in waterborne diseases such as hepatitis A and typhoid.

Lebanon and Jordan, which host the largest numbers of refugees, are to be commended for keeping their borders open and continuing to provide assistance for the refugees, despite severely strained resources. This month, Jordan recorded its highest-ever figure, with more than 50,000 new arrivals.

Refugee numbers have doubled in Egypt over the last three months – risen by almost one-fifth in Turkey since the start of the year. Iraq already hosts refugee numbers much larger than it had forecast for the end of June.

In Jordan, more than 120,000 refugees are officially registered at the sprawling Zaatari desert camp, near the Syrian border. The camp, the size of a large city, is almost full to capacity.  The massive influx is already creating tensions and conflict over sparse resources. The Jordanian government will need additional financial support to provide a safe environment for the refugees and its own population. 

Aid agencies in the camp are also facing challenges because of the sudden upsurge in refugee numbers. Oxfam is installing water and hygiene facilities in what was meant to be a new, unfilled section of the camp.  But the fast-moving crisis has meant that the agency has had to provide temporary facilities for thousands of refugees who have moved in before permanent facilities have been completed, creating extra work and adding to overall costs.
The Jordanian government is planning to open at least two new camps to house the refugees. 
But most Syrians refugees live outside the camps, scattered in towns and villages both in Jordan and in other countries neighbouring Syria, where it is harder for them to access aid.  Rental prices for housing have shot up, while health and school facilities have struggled to keep pace with increased demands, creating new hardships for both the refugees and their hosts.

“This is likely to be a prolonged crisis and agencies and governments need to prepare for the long-haul,” said Lacasse. “Even if there was an immediate halt to the violence today, there will be massive humanitarian needs to be addressed for months and years to come. There is no quick fix.”

Humanitarian agencies recognise that host communities have been extraordinarily generous in helping the new arrivals, but tensions could arise in the future because of the increased costs of living, finding shelter and other services, as well as limited job opportunities.

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About Oxfam
Oxfam is dedicated to fighting poverty and inequity worldwide. The international and independent development and humanitarian organisation tackles poverty in four main ways: sustainable development in poor communities, disaster relief, local and global advocacy, and education with Hong Kong youth. Established in Hong Kong in 1976, Oxfam Hong Kong is a founding member of Oxfam, an international confederation that has assisted poor people in 94 countries. Oxfam Hong Kong alone has supported poor people in over 70 countries/regions.