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U.N. warns of 'critical gap' in Syrian refugee aid this year

AMMAN (Reuters) - A “critical gap” in funding for Syrian refugees and host communities this year could lead to cuts in vital services, threatening social stability in host countries and refugees’ futures, United Nations and aid agencies warned on Thursday.

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Humanitarian organizations had asked international donors for $5.6 billion this year to support 5.5 million Syrian refugees living in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, and 4 million nationals from those host countries.

But almost half way through 2018, only 18 to 22 percent of required funds have been given, the heads of several U.N. agencies said at a conference in Amman to ask for more aid.

“We are already falling behind in providing cash assistance, in making sure we are picking up health bills, in supporting governments and municipalities to continue to give services to refugees,” Amin Awad, director of UNHCR’s Middle East and North Africa bureau, said. UNHCR is the U.N.’s refugee agency.

The U.N. had already expressed concern that 2018 aid pledges fell short of targets after a Brussels donor conference in April.

The problem is most acute in Lebanon and Jordan, which have the highest and second-highest share of refugees as a percentage of their populations in the world.

Lebanon’s aid program so far is only 12 percent funded and Jordan’s has received only 21 percent of necessary finances, UNHCR said.

Refugee and internally displaced Syrians are getting poorer and more indebted as the war drags on, and hundreds of thousands of children are missing out on education. “The situation is very dire,” Awad said.


Syria’s conflict, which has killed an estimated half a million people and driven around half of the population from their homes, has lasted more than seven years without a political solution appearing on the horizon.

Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have hosted the majority of Syrians fleeing conflict while hundreds of thousands have fled to Europe and beyond. European countries want to keep refugees in countries around Syria until they can safely return home.

Many refugees moved to already poor parts of countries like Lebanon, where economic growth has fallen to between 1 and 2 percent a year from between 8 and 10 percent before the war, straining public services and increasing competition for jobs.

Samuel Rizk of the U.N. development agency UNDP said it was critically important that countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey are supported to maintain social cohesion.

Lebanon has the world’s third-highest debt to GDP ratio and stagnant growth. On Wednesday thousands of Jordanians went on strike over IMF-guided tax rises and falling living standards. Turkey is struggling to contain double-digit inflation and halt a slide in its currency.

UNHCR’s Awad said in the absence of a political solution to Syria’s crisis, “the only solution we have is to stay the course and provide humanitarian assistance”.

Reporting by Reuters TV staff; Writing by Lisa Barrington in Beirut; Editing by David Holmes