Syrian refugees likely to soar past UN estimates says church agency

(Photo: Reuters / Muhammad Hamed)Syrian refugees sit in an army bus after crossing into Jordanian territory, near Mafraq Feb. 18, 2013. According to the Jordanian Armed Forces sources, around 89,000 Syrian refugees fleeing from the violence in their country have crossed the Jordanian border since the beginning of 2013

Geneva - The church-backed ACT Alliance expects that more than 1.1 million Syrian refugees may seek safety in neighboring countries before June 1– thereby surpassing the latest United Nations estimates for the war that is escalating and spilling over borders.

Nearly 700,000 Syrians have already fled across the border. These refugee numbers come on top of an additional four million people still living inside Syria who need assistance, two million of whom have been displaced from their homes.

"With an estimated 3,000 refugees reportedly crossing the border every day, we're struggling to keep pace with the growing needs on the ground and anticipate that refugee flows will probably surpass even UN predictions" says John Nduna, ACT''s General Secretary on the agency's website.

Nduna's overall prognosis was confirmed on Feb. 19 by Valerie Amos, UN under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs and coordinator of emergency relief told journalists in Geneva, "The situation in Syria is getting worse.

She noted, "The U.N. estimates that 70,000 people have been killed since the beginning of the crisis. People do not feel safe or secure. The number of people in need has quadrupled since June last year.

"More than half Syria's public hospitals have been damaged; many of those that are open lack basic supplies like antibiotics and painkillers. One in five schools has either been destroyed or is being used as a collective shelter. Some 400,000 out of about 500,000 Palestinian refugees need humanitarian assistance."

On Wednesday David Kaartrud, David Kaatrud, World Food Program, director of emergencies said in Geneva, "Inside Syria itself the needs have been tremendous," referring to food needs.

The WFP was preparing itself to be able to feed 2.5 million people in Syria by April. Providing food in the conflict area is not easy as lines between government forces and different militias fighting them can require "very taxing negotiations."

Regarding refuges Nduna said the escalating numbers means that "The funding just isn't adequate given the circumstances, which are evolving so quickly from one day to the next."

The alliance's humanitarian efforts have included the provision of: food; hygiene kits; clothing and other items for infants; shelter and household items, including stoves, bedding and rental assistance; and educational and psychosocial support, says ACT.

ACT said that to date it has assisted some 400,000 internally displaced Syrians and refugees in Lebanon and Jordan – and now most recently in Armenia – in close collaboration with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and national governments since fighting first broke out nearly two years ago.

ACT has requested US$9.8 million to carry out its humanitarian efforts in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, and has so far received about half that amount. ACT has also recently launched a new effort to assist 2,500 Syrian refugees in Armenia for another US$200,000.

Referring to ACT's latest appeal for refugees in Armenia, Nduna said, "The conflict in Syria is taking an increasingly heavy toll on the entire region."

He said however, "ACT will continue to work closely with regional governments and U.N. agencies to help mitigate the mounting human suffering both inside Syria and across its borders."

ACT has members such as U.S.-based Church World Service, UK based Christian Aid and the Middle East Council of Churches.

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