By Claire McCorkindale
Countries bordering war-torn Syria are coming under increased pressure to take in refugees, as fighting continues in the region.
The United Nations refugee agency estimates 1.2 million people are displaced within Syria and a further 150,000 refugees are waiting to enter surrounding countries.
Refugee numbers have quadrupled in comparison to figures recorded in April, and around 75 percent of the refugees are believed to women and children.
Valeria Amos, the Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, recently visited war-stricken Damascus and says families are suffering.
“The families I met are tired, anxious and many have no prospect of going home any time soon,” she says.
Dennis McKinlay, executive director at UNICEF NZ, is alarmed that children are bearing the greatest brunt of the tragedy.
“Children are not responsible for this tragedy but are paying a terrible price,” he says. “Children are losing their lives, losing their homes, losing their parents and losing their schooling.”
Non-profit organisations such as UNICEF are giving humanitarian assistance in Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Jordan.
Basic facilities such as food, water, health care and sanitation are being provided in some areas but demand is constantly on the rise.
Turkey has recently completed five new shelter camps with a total capacity of 50,000 people, Za’atari in Jordan can now hold up to 130,000 refugees at full capacity, al-Qa’im is able to provide for up to 2500 Syrian Kurds and in Lebanon refugees are being housed in public shelters.
However, in Lebanon most refugees are situated in two of the poorest regions of the country.
Ms Amos says despite escaping Syria, many refugees fear they will be recaptured by Syrian intelligence.
“Insecurity and restrictions are part of the problem,” she says.
Several attacks, kidnappings and intimidating acts towards Syrian refugees have been recorded in the past few months.
The UN originally allotted US$9.7 million to assist Syrians but a revised response estimates as much as $193 million is needed.
UNICEF NZ is in the final stages of preparation to launch an appeal to raise funds for the crisis in Syria.
“UNICEF is working with its partners to deliver urgently needed assistance to hundreds of thousands of children and families who have fled their homes to escape the fighting,” says Mr McKinlay. “The deteriorating situation is driving civilians to flee Syria to neighbouring countries in ever increasing numbers.”
UNICEF NZ plans to raise NZ$25 million.
Claire McCorkindale is a young writer-in-training for the 3 News ‘3Youth’ programme.