Turkey says has spent $600 million on Syria refugees

ANKARA Fri Feb 8, 2013 6:21am EST

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey has spent more than $600 million sheltering refugees from the almost two-year-old conflict in neighboring Syria, Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek said on Friday.

Of that total, the central government had spent 610.5 million lira ($344 million) from its budget by February 5, Simsek said on his official Twitter account.

Local authorities have provided the rest, he added.

Turkey has been one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's fiercest critics, hosting a NATO Patriot missile defense system to protect against a spillover of violence and leading calls for international intervention to end the conflict.

The United Nations said on Friday that refugee numbers have spiked, with around 5,000 people fleeing each day, 2,000 more a day than last year's figures.

Turkey is sheltering more than 177,000 refugees in 16 camps, although tens of thousands more Syrians have crossed into Turkey and are staying with relatives or in private accommodation, according to the country's disaster management agency.

Government officials complain Turkey has received only around $35 million for its humanitarian assistance from foreign donors, half of that from the United Nations.

The government is tightly controlling the aid effort, channeling assistance largely through Turkish NGOs in what it says is a bid to ensure it is properly co-ordinated.

Some diplomats have suggested foreign funding might be more forthcoming if international organizations such as the United Nations were given greater control.

Turkey's total central government budget spending was 360 billion lira ($200 billion) last year.

(Reporting by Orhan Coskun; Writing by Seda Sezer; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Oliver Holmes)

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