Syrian refugees face mounting hardships, says UNHCR chief

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The number of Syrian refugees fleeing the crisis-torn country is rising at a rapid pace, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told Al Arabiya’s New York bureau chief Talal al-Haj in an interview aired on Tuesday.

As of the start of this week, 2.1 million registered Syrian refugees have crossed the border into Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, Guterres said.

“Every single day 3000-5000 new Syrian refugees cross the border, it’s now relatively stable but this demonstrates the war is ongoing, that the conflict is causing destruction.

“Many are fleeing the violence itself and many [are leaving] because there is no health support, the schools are closed, vital elements in daily life are not present and people have to flee,” Guterres added.

When asked whether the refugee agency’s finances would stand the test of the escalating refugee influx into countries neighboring Syria, Guterres said that less than half of the aid that the U.N. appealed for in 2013 has been received.

“In relation to the response plan, in which 85 U.N. agencies, NGOs, Red Cross and Red Crescent societies appealed for support for 2013, we have received 43% of what we asked for.

“As you can imagine there are many gaps, you have refugees that are not living in proper conditions they have no shelter, they are in tents or sometimes 20-30 families are living in a warehouse,” Guterres said.

“It’s a very dramatic scene [for the refugees]. You flee from a country, in which you have seen fighting, bombardment and members of your family being killed. When you come to safety, you still live with enormous poverty.”

To better put the dismal picture into perspective, Guterres compared the Syrian refugee influx in Lebanon to the total Lebanese population.

“Lebanon has today registered more than 760,000 refugees, if you count also all the other Syrians that are living in Lebanon, it is probably 20-25% of the population. If this was in the U.S., it would be 57 million people entering the country. can you imagine the U.S. absorbing 57 million people coming in 2 years?”

He called on an increase in economic support from the international community.

“This is something that breaks our heart and makes us appeal very strongly to a much more committed international support.
“This is not just another crisis. This is the most dramatic humanitarian crisis we have had, I would say, since the genocide in Rwanda.”

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