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U.N. urges more aid for Syrian refugees at new Jordan camp

A new refugee camp opened in Jordan meant to accomodate up to 50,000 people but can be expanded to take in 130,000

Published: Updated:

A massive refugee camp opened Wednesday in the eastern desert of Jordan for Syrians fleeing the war in their country with the U.N. urging more aid in the long run.

The Azraq camp can accomodate up to 50,000 people but the U.N. agency for refugees UNHCR says it can be expanded to take in 130,000, making it one of the biggest in the world.

"It is probably the biggest refugee camp in the world," Andrew Harper, UNHCR representative in Jordan, told reporters, diplomats and government officials at the opening ceremony.

"What you see when you drive around is possibly one of the best planned refugees camp in the world," Harper said.

Jordan has taken in nearly 600,000 refugees from Syria since the war in its neighbour broke out three years ago and is now home to three camps, including the densely populated Zaatari camp.

Located some 100 kilometres (62 miles) east of Amman, Azraq will help take some of the pressure off Zaatari, which is home to more than 100,000 refugees.

A much smaller camp is Mureijeb Fhud, northeast of the Jordanian capital, and houses nearly 4,000 refugees.

In Azraq around 5,000 shelters have been erected to house up to 25,000 refugees, but only 437 have moved into the new camp since Monday, according to the United Nations.

Unlike the tents and caravans found in Zaatari, the zinc and steel shelters in Azraq have been designed to better cope with the high winds and extreme temperatures of the desert, the UNHCR said.

More than 100 kilometres of roads have been built inside the camp, which also relies on its own water distribution system and has two schools and a 130-bed hospital.

"It is the second largest Syrian refugee camp in Jordan and we hope it will be the last," said Waddah Hmud, head of Jordan's Syrian Refugee Affairs Directorate.

Harper and Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh called for international aid.

Jordan "is doing everything it can, it has opened its border, it has provided space for refugees here. But then it is up to the international community to do much more to mitigate the impact," Harper said.

He told diplomats that "what we do need is additional support, not in the short term, but very much in the long term."

In December, the U.N. appealed for around $6.5 billion (4.6 billion euros) for victims of Syria's war, while a total of $2.3 billion was pledged at the Kuwait Donor Conference in January.

"The International community should do its part to help Jordan cope with the huge economic and social burden of hosting the refugees," Judeh said.

He also called for a "political solution" to help end the war in Syria and stop the influx of refugees.