Jordan, UN appeal for $700M to aid Syrian refugees

AP News
Posted: Sep 01, 2012 9:59 AM
Jordan, UN appeal for $700M to aid Syrian refugees

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Jordan and the U.N.'s refugee agency issued an urgent call to international donors on Saturday for $700 million to handle the rapidly rising number of Syrian refugees seeking safe haven in the country.

Jordanian Planning Minister Jafaar Hassan said the money would be used to assist 240,000 refugees and other Syrians in Jordan. He said they are an added drain on the country's already overburdened water and energy resources.

Some 5,000 Syrians crossed into Jordan in a 24-hour period earlier this week, adding to the more than 180,000 living in the kingdom to escape their homeland's civil war. Jordan is the largest host of Syrians in the region.

UNHCR representative Andrew Harper said many more are expected to come.

"I cannot see one positive indicator that would lead me to believe that the numbers are going to be reduced," he said.

Jordan's first tent city, the desert camp of Zaatari, now hosts 25,000 refugees. Aid workers at the camp say the rapid influx is making it difficult to fully provide even basic services to new arrivals.

Harper said he and the Jordanian authorities anticipated they would also have to open other tent camps, if the influx continues at the same pace.

He said the international response to funding appeals was "starting to improve, but unfortunately the needs are increasing at a faster rate than the support that we're getting, so we are always losing."

Earlier this week, Jordan and U.N. agencies issued a joint appeal for $429 million dollars, but it was not immediately clear why the amount was raised except perhaps due to the unexpected spike in arriving refugees.

Many of the refugees have said they find camp life a harsh struggle against constant dust storms, snakes and scorpions on the parched, treeless stretch of land.

Jordan fears that the influx, and the difficulty housing the refugees, might threaten its security. Some 200 refugees rioted at the Zaatari camp on Tuesday to protest the camp's poor conditions. Police said 28 officers were wounded in the riot, one of them with a fractured skull.

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Jordanian Prime Minister Fayez Tarawneh said Wednesday that those responsible for the riots would be deported.

On Saturday, Information Minister Sameeh Maaytah told a news conference that no deportations had yet been made. "But we are firm," he continued. "Our priority is the safety of our borders, citizens, state and its security. Afterwards, we care for the refugees."

One security official said that Jordan still intended to send the suspected rioters back across the border, but to areas not under the control of the Syrian regime for fear that they would face repercussions. Rebels now control considerable swaths of territory in Syria, including parts of the south near Jordan.

The official spoke anonymously as he was not allowed to make press statements.

Harper said that 1,700 Syrian refugees have returned home over the course of the conflict, but all have done so voluntarily.

He said authorities are continuing to improve Zaatari tent camp. "It's not perfect, but it's all we got."