Syrian refugee numbers rise, plan needed, EU says
NICOSIA (Reuters) - The number of Syrian refugees fleeing fighting in their country has reached 115,000 and aid agencies must develop a plan to deal with the growing humanitarian emergency, EU officials said on Monday.
"It's a horrible situation there, changing by the hour," Ceclia Malmstrom. European Union Commissioner for Home Affairs, told journalists following a meeting of aid officials in Cyprus.
Cyprus, which holds the rotating six month EU presidency, is the closest member state to Syria, separated by a 170 km stretch of sea.
European Justice and Home Affairs Ministers, meeting at an informal session, heard from United Nations aid agency UNHCR that 115,000 Syrians had already fled to Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.
In consultation with the EU, Cyprus has drafted contingency plans to assist in the evacuation of up to 200,000 people - EU passport holders and third-country nationals - as a worst case scenario, officials said.
Cypriot officials have stressed the contingency planning would only be to facilitate the repatriation of people fleeing violence, and not for admitting Syrian refugees.
Separately, Malmstrom said EU ministers had discussed what she said was establishing a "special version of a regional protection program" which would focus on humanitarian assistance, return of displaced persons, integration and resettlement.
"This was an informal meeting, the first time in this context that we discussed the horrible situation in Syria, so it was more exploratory," she told a news conference.
"This is something we are looking at and we will come back to it because, unfortunately, the conflict is not likely to cease in the coming weeks," she said.
According to UNHCR assessments, 42,000 Syrians have fled to Turkey, between 30,000 and 34,000 each to Jordan and Lebanon and 8,000 to Iraq, Eleni Mavrou, Cyprus's Interior Minister, said.
(Editing by Michael Roddy)