The U.N. refugee agency warned Thursday there could be as many as 700,000 Syrian refugees fleeing the war-torn nation by the end of the year as it stepped up its call for emergency funding, nearly four times its previous forecast.
“There may be up to 700,000 Syrian refugees in neighboring countries by the end of the year,” Panos Moumtzsis, the UNHCR’s chief coordinator for Syrian refugees, told reporters in Geneva.
“We are running out of time,” he added.
Faced with the soaring need for aid after 18 months of brutal conflict in Syria, humanitarian agencies upped their call for funds to $487.9 million (379.2 million euros) to sustain operations until the end of the year.
In June, when the UNHCR first updated its regional response plan, it made plans for 185,000 refugees. Since then the number has tripled, the agency said, with 100,000 people fleeing Syria in August and 60,000 so far in September.
At present, only $141.5 million in funding is available, just 29 percent of the overall request, Moumtzsis said, stressing the urgency of the appeal in the face of an “overwhelming increase” in the number of people trying to escape the escalating bloodshed.
The approach of winter made Thursday’s appeal even more important, Moumtzsis said, adding that winterised tents, clothing, blankets and heaters were needed to prepare for the “very harsh” months to come.
“We’ve been overwhelmed,” said Moumtzsis. “We need the funding urgently to respond as thousands of people are crossing the border.”
“This is a significant outflow taking place, 100,000 people in August, 60,000 in September and at the moment 2,000 or 3,000 per day or night,” Moumtzis he added.
About 294,000 refugees fleeing 18 months of conflict in Syria have crossed into four neighbouring countries - Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey - or await registration there, the agency said. Meanwhile, 5,000-6,000 Syrians have also reached other parts of north Africa, mainly Egypt, while other refugees are turning up in southern Europe, including Cyprus and Greece.
Funding is essential to provide basic life-saving aid for those crossing the borders, Moumtzsis said, adding that a focus on education and healthcare was also necessary given the high ratio of child refugees fleeing Syria.