Syrian refugees top 200,000 as exodus grows: U.N. agency

GENEVA Fri Aug 24, 2012 11:59am EDT

GENEVA (Reuters) - More than 200,000 Syrians have poured into neighboring countries during the conflict, surpassing the 185,000 the U.N. refugee agency had expected to flee by the end of the year.

The total reflects an increase of about 30,000 in the past week alone to Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, but also takes into account those awaiting registration in Jordan, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.

"There has been a dramatic increase in the number of (Syrian) refugees in the region during August, we're now at over 200,000 refugees in the region, that's over and above our planning figure for all 2012 of 185,000 refugees," spokesman Adrian Edwards told Reuters Television in Geneva on Friday.

"So clearly we're going to have to revisit the planning," he said, adding that the UNHCR was drawing up new contingency planning figures, expected to be issued around mid-September.

Turkey continues to see the largest refugee influx, with more than 74,000 registered as of Wednesday, Edwards said.

More than 3,500 people fleeing violence in Syria have entered Turkey over the past 24 hours, Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate said on Friday, one of the highest daily refugee flows since the start of the uprising last year.

The number of Syrians in Turkey has risen sharply over the past two months and Ankara is growing increasingly concerned it may soon be unable to deal with any new arrivals.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said this week it could run out of space if the number went above 100,000 and suggested the United Nations may instead need to create a "safe zone" inside Syria.

Turkey is expected to raise the issue of a "safe zone" at a Security Council meeting on August 30, also to be addressed by U.N. refugee chief Antonio Guterres, Edwards said.

Divisions in the U.N. Security Council pose a major obstacle to the creation of any such U.N. safe haven, which would need robust military protection unless Damascus gave its consent.

RECORD ARRIVAL IN JORDAN

Turkish authorities have told the agency they are building seven new camps in addition to the existing nine, which will bring the country's camp capacity to 130,000, Edwards said.

"In Jordan, a record 2,200 people crossed the border overnight and were received at Za'atri camp in the north," Edwards told a news briefing.

Za'atri, where the first baby was born three days ago in a Moroccan-run field hospital, now shelters 14,500 refugees, he said. About 61,000 Syrians refugees have registered with UNHCR or await registration, while the Jordanian government estimates 150,000 Syrians are actually in the country, he added.

"The camp in Jordan is in desert conditions. It is very tough on the refugees, it's not an easy proposition living in the desert in a tent. The vast majority are women and children," UNHCR spokeswoman Sybella Wilkes told Reuters.

Iraq is home to nearly 16,000 Syrian refugees, UNHCR said.

Edwards, referring to Lebanon where 51,000 Syrian refugees are now recorded, said: "The deteriorating security situation in Lebanon is hampering our work to help refugees fleeing Syria's conflict, though operations are continuing."

At least three people including a Sunni Islamist commander were killed on Friday in a fifth day of sporadic sectarian fighting in Lebanon's northern city of Tripoli triggered by the conflict in Syria.

The UNHCR opened a registration centre in Tripoli this week but it closed on Friday for security reasons, Edwards said.

Security concerns in the Bekaa valley in eastern Lebanon meant the UNHCR tried to avoid large gatherings of people, reverting to mobile registrations instead, he said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Signe Nissen in Geneva and Jonathon Burch in Ankara; Editing by Jon Boyle and Pravin Char)

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