Syrian refugee numbers top 500,000: UNHCR

GENEVA (Reuters) - More than half a million Syrian refugees are now registered or are waiting to in other Middle Eastern countries, with about 3,000 new people seeking refugee status and assistance daily, the United Nations refugee agency said on Tuesday.

Syrian refugees wait to perform Eid al-Adha prayers at Al Zaatri refugee camp during the first day of Eid al-Adha in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, October 26, 2012. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

In the last two days alone, 1,000 people have crossed at night into Jordan, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told a briefing.

“They arrived in very bad weather, their clothing soaked, shoes covered in mud,” she said. “UNHCR teams have described them as fearful, freezing and without proper winter clothing.”

According to UNHCR’s latest figures for Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and North Africa, 509,559 Syrians are either already registered (425,160) or in the process of being registered as refugees requiring international assistance.

“People are being instantly and violently uprooted and losing everything they had in a place that was once peaceful,” she said.

The number of registered Syrian refugees region-wide rose by about 3,200 per day in November, both new arrivals and those who signed up only once their resources were depleted, it said.

“We are getting increasing numbers of people already in the countries coming forward,” Fleming said.

More Syrians struggling to live in their host country are expected to come forward as the war continues, their savings are exhausted and host families can no longer support them.

Lebanon now hosts 154,387 registered Syrian refugees who have fled the 20-month-old conflict, Jordan has 142,664, Turkey 136,319, Iraq 65,449 and North Africa 11,740, the UNHCR said.

In addition, hundreds of thousands of Syrians are believed to have crossed into neighboring countries but not yet come forward to register for refugee status and assistance, it said.

They include about 100,000 in Jordan, 70,000 each in both Turkey and Egypt and tens of thousands in Lebanon, it said, citing government estimates.

The latest estimates indicate that the total number of Syrians who have fled during the conflict has already surpassed the 700,000 refugees that UNHCR forecast by year end, although more than 200,000 of them have not registered formally.

Only 40 percent of the registered Syrian refugees in the region actually live in refugee camps, the rest are staying in rental housing, with host families or in collective centers.

In Lebanon there are no camps, while in Turkey all are in 14 government-run camps. There are three camps in Iraq and three in Jordan, the largest of which is Za’atri with more than 30,000.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Angus MacSwan