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U.N. calls for more aid to handle Syrian refugee crisis 20 décembre 2012

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient.
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International Herald Tribune (USA)  Thursday, December 20, 2012, p. 4

By Nick Cumming-Bruce and Rick Gladstone *

Geneva – The United Nations on Wednesday appealed for $1.5 billion in new aid to handle the steadily worsening humanitarian crisis created by spiraling violence in Syria, and predicted that the number of refugees fleeing the conflict would double to more than one million in the next six months.

The increased refugee estimate represents at least the fourth time that the United Nations has revised its projections upward on refugees in the nearly two-year-old uprising against the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. It has turned into a civil war that has left at least 40,000 people dead and has threatened to destabilize the Middle East.

Meeting representatives of donor governments in Geneva, U.N. agencies said they were seeking $1 billion to assist Syrian refugees in five neighboring countries and a further $519 million to provide emergency aid to four million people inside Syria over the same period. There are 20.8 million people living in Syria, according to the World Bank.

« This massive humanitarian crisis requires urgent support from governments, businesses and private individuals, » Panos Moumtzis, the U.N. regional coordinator for Syrian refugees, said in a statement. « Unless these funds come quickly, we will not be able to fully respond to the lifesaving needs of civilians who flee Syria every hour of the day – many in a truly desperate condition. »

More than 525,000 Syrians have now registered as refugees, the U.N. refugee agency reported, about double the number it had recorded in early September. These refugees include about 160,000 in Lebanon, 150,000 in Jordan, 140,000 in Turkey and more than 65,000 in Iraq. The agency also included Egypt for the first time as a sanctuary for fleeing Syrians, reporting that more than 10,000 had registered there.

The refugee agency now expects the number to double again within the next six months, Mr. Moumtzis said.

He based that forecast on current trends in the conflict, with 2,000 to 3,000 Syrians crossing into neighboring countries every day. Under a worst-case outcome, in which the conflict results in a mass exodus of civilians, the number of refugees could rise to 1.85 million, he said.

Citing daily shelling and bombings in the suburbs of the Syrian capital, Radhouane Nouicer, the coordinator of U.N. humanitarian aid based in Damascus, said in Geneva that « there are nearly no more safe areas where people can flee. »

The needs of Syria’s increasingly desperate population, facing winter cold and shortages of basics like food, were much greater than the aid sought by the United Nations, Mr. Nouicer said, but the appeal was « realistic assessment of what we can achieve » in the complex and dangerous conditions prevailing in the country.

Among the immediate concerns is the fate of around half a million Palestinian refugees in Syria, a legacy of the Arab-Israeli conflict, mostly living in Damascus. An aerial assault on Yarmouk, a vast Palestinian neighborhood in the south of the capital on Sunday, had prompted many to flee.

Hundreds are known to have crossed into Lebanon while others sought protection with relatives living elsewhere in Syria, but the whereabouts of many Yarmouk inhabitants as of Wednesday was unclear.

« We don’t know where they are, it’s a humanitarian crisis that is still playing itself out, » said Martha Myers, director of relief and social services for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which administers aid to Palestinian refugees.

In Syria on Wednesday, the state-run news agency, SANA, reported that military forces had attacked insurgent positions in and around Damascus, Idlib, Hama and Dara’a, and had seized weapons and « eliminated a number of terrorists, » the government’s generic term for Mr. Assad’s armed opponents.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group based in Britain with a network of contacts in Syria, said much of the fighting was in districts adjoining the Yarmouk neighborhood, which insurgents have sought to occupy as part of their stated intention to seize control of the central part of the capital.

* Nick Cumming-Bruce reported from Geneva, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Hania Mourtada and Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon.

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