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27th Aug 2016

Lack of funding may force Syrian refugees into Europe

  • Refugee camp in Jordan: Some 200,000 people fled the city of Aleppo and the surrounding areas over the weekend (Photo: unhcr.org)

Neighbouring countries surrounding war-ravaged Syria may seal off their borders if they can no longer absorb the increasing number of refugees, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) representative to Jordan, Andrew Harper, told EUobserver on Tuesday (31 July).

"If countries feel they cannot absorb the number of refugees, they have little choice but to close the borders," he said.

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Refugees will be forced to return to Syria or go elsewhere like Europe, Harper explained.

On Sunday, Jordanian authorities opened up a new camp on the border to ease pressures on border sites hosting thousands of Syrian refugees. The camp, located in northern Jordan, can accommodate 113,000 if required. Local Jordanian communities are also aiding the refugees but are now stretched beyond capacity.

"The EU is providing some funding but we are in desperate need of more money. We hope they are able to provide support so we can help. We are basically running out of money as we get it," said Harper.

Some 1,500 refugees are arriving daily in Jordan, crossing over at night from the Da'raa region in southern Syria. Reports are emerging refugees are being fired upon, the majority of whom are women and small children coming primarily from towns and cities near the border. Last week, a surge in refugees from Damascus also arrived in Jordan.

"We are trying to mitigate the costs of the camps and unless Jordan receives the money it is likely to close the border. The refugees will be forced back into Syria or elsewhere," said Harper. There is a need of an additional $12 million to keep the camps operational, he estimated.

200,000 flee Aleppo

Fierce violence over the weekend in Syria's largest city, Aleppo has forced an estimated 200,000 residents to flee, with many seeking refuge in Turkey.

The past four days have also seen a daily exodus of around 2,000 Aleppo residents making their way up across the Hatay border and on into Turkey. Snipers and roadblocks may be hindering their way.

So far, around 70,000 Syrian refugees have sought formal protection in Turkey. Turkey, which is managing eight camps, plans on erecting another two within the next three weeks, each with a capacity to house 10,000 refugees.

Meanwhile, Greece has deployed an additional 1,800 border guards on the Turkish border. Greek public order minister Nikos Dendias told the Associated Press on Monday that Syria poses "a major concern" for Greece.

Cyprus, which is located around 100km from the Syrian coast line, has not experienced any surge of refugees. The vast majority, said Corina Drousiotou of the NGO Future Worlds Center based in Nicosia, remain in Turkey.

But the few Syrian refugees who have attempted to enter Cyprus do so first by landing in the Turkish Republic of Cyprus before walking across the green line that splits the island in two.

The green line is not officially recognised as a border and is sparsely guarded.

"This makes it easy for smugglers to pass persons at various points. Cyprus is not facilitating Syrians in any way, either those already here or others who may have approached the Embassy in Damascus," said Drousitou in an email.

The European Commission, for its part, has committed €40 million in humanitarian aid inside Syria and in support to the refugees.

Of the EU's humanitarian aid, about 40 percent goes for the refugees from Syria in Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan. A number of EU member states have also mobilised more than €27.9 million, says the European Commission.

"Syria is sliding into a large scale humanitarian tragedy that brings back awful memories of Ex-Yugoslavia. For the sake of people subjected to daily violence and horrors, we must not let this happen," said EU aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva.

Frontex, the EU's border agency, says some 715 Syrian refugees were detected attempting to enter the EU in the first three months of 2012; a five-fold increase compared to last year. Of those, the vast majority were crossing into Greece from Turkey.

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