UN struggling with worsening Syria war

2013-02-28 10:04
Syrian refugee children peer from a tent supplied by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in al-Marj, in the eastern Lebanese Bekaa Valley. (Hassan Jarah, AFP)

Syrian refugee children peer from a tent supplied by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in al-Marj, in the eastern Lebanese Bekaa Valley. (Hassan Jarah, AFP)

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United Nations - The war in Syria is worsening so fast that the United Nations and aid agencies cannot keep pace with the refugee and humanitarian fallout, top officials warned on Wednesday.

"Even with us working full tilt, the scale is outpacing whatever we do on the response side," UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos told reporters after briefing the Security Council on the 23-month-old conflict.

Amos said only $200m out of $1.5bn pledged at an aid donor’s conference last month had been received.

She added that the $1.5bn estimate for UN humanitarian work in and around Syria for the first six months of the year was now "out of date" and more would be needed.

"This is a crisis that is completely stretching our capacity," she said. "The way that these figures are going up on an almost daily basis, the rising cost of this crisis, mean that it is not business as usual."

Amos said the first two months of the year had been a "game-changer" in Syria with President Bashar Assad's forces and the opposition stepping up hostilities.

936 000 refugees

The UN estimates more than 70 000 people have been killed since March 2011 but the toll has shot up this year.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Gutierrez told the council there are now 936 000 registered refugees in countries around Syria and the million mark would be hit within weeks.

The figure has grown from 33 000 last April and 40 000 Syrians a week are now crossing into other countries.

Gutierrez "stated unequivocally that we might be reaching a moment of reckoning in the region," said Udo Janz, the head of the UNHCR New York office who gave details of the briefing to the closed meeting.

Officially there are 315 000 registered refugees in Lebanon but Janz said the figure is probably 400 000. Janz estimated there were probably also 400 000 in Jordan and almost 300 000 in Turkey and 100 000 in Iraq.

‘Systematic’ rape and sexual attacks

Janz said it may soon become necessary to "look at other means or measures" to handle the huge numbers in Lebanon but he called on all countries to maintain their open frontier for Syrians fleeing their country.

He added that numbers arriving in Jordan each day "far outpace" the UN and government efforts to register refugees.

"The situation on the borders on a nightly basis is really requiring extraordinary efforts," Janz told reporters.

Jordan is building two new camps, but the refugee official said these would soon be full.
UN special representative on sexual violence in conflict said that rapes and sexual attacks by government forces had become "systematic".

France's UN ambassador Gerard Araud said the Security Council had been given "horrifying" reports of events in Syria.

The Security Council is bitterly divided over the Syria war. Russia and China have blocked three western-backed resolutions which would have increased pressure on Assad by just threatening possible sanctions.

- SAPA
Read more on:    un  |  bashar assad  |  syria  |  syria conflict
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