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Numbers of Syrian refugees climb as winter nears

December 11, 2012|By Patrick J. McDonnell
  • Syrian men make a fire to boil water Sunday near their tent at a refugee camp near the Turkish border in Azaz, Syria.
Syrian men make a fire to boil water Sunday near their tent at a refugee camp… (Manu Brabo / Associated…)

BEIRUT — More than half a million Syrian refugees are seeking international aid, and the numbers are climbing by more than 3,000 a day as violence continues to rage in Syria, the United Nations refugee agency said Tuesday.

The onset of winter-like weather has posed new perils for those seeking asylum outside of war-ravaged Syria.

“Winter can be extremely harsh, particularly when you’ve got people already weakened by the ordeal of coming out of Syria,” said Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency. “People are coming out saying they are doing it as a last resort. ... Most people are coming through with just the clothes on their backs.”

The great majority of Syrian refugees are women and children, U.N. officials say.

But the numbers released Tuesday in Geneva provide only a partial view of the vast refugee flows that have spilled over Syria’s borders, taxing the ability of other nations and the international community to help.

The half-million statistic refers to Syrian refugees who have officially registered with the United Nations or are awaiting registration in four surrounding countries — Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon — as well as in Egypt and elsewhere in North Africa. Those who are registered can be eligible for aid, including housing, food and medical care.

Not included, however, is an unknown number of Syrian refugees — perhaps more than 300,000 — who have yet to make a move to register with the U.N.

The situation is even more dire inside Syria, where at least 2 million people reportedly have been displaced, some now living in the rough in fields, bombed-out buildings and abandoned schools. Many still face danger from bombardment and firefights, while also coping with a lack of shelter, food, medical care and other necessities.

As winter approaches, the United Nations and independent aid agencies are  trying to raise $500 million to help Syrian refugees, whether they are living in formal refugee camps or outside of the camp structure.

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