UN fears that Syria's neighbours may close borders

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There are fears that countries neighbouring Syria may close their borders following a sharp increase in the numbers of refugees crossing their borders from Syria.

Over 214,000 Syrian refugees have registered as refugees in four neighbouring countries since the start of the conflict in March 2011. The numbers arriving in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq every day have risen dramatically. Many more refugees are expected as the fighting continues. Turkish and Jordanian ministers have requested international help.

There are already 74,000 refugees in Turkey. The numbers arriving daily have increased dramatically. Before last week, refugees were arriving at the rate of about 500 a day. Last week, that number rose to see a peak of 5,000 in a single day. 3,000 people arrived yesterday 28th August 2012. The total number of Syrian refugees in Turkey is currently projected to rise to over 200,000. Turkey has already built nine refugee camps and is planning to build at least five more. It has asked for international assistance. Melissa Fleming, chief spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said that an increasing number of refugees are unaccompanied children.

In Jordan, the authorities say that 70,000 refugees have registered but the Jordanian government and the UNHCR believe that many more have entered the country and have not registered as refugees. The rate of arrival has risen sharply in Jordan too. 10,200 more refugees arrived last week. Jordan's minister of State for Information, Samih Maaytah said 'This crisis is beyond the resources that are being extended by us or the efforts of the UNHCR or other humanitarian bodies. It needs an international program and response.'

Melissa Fleming said 'We believe this could be the start of a major, much larger influx into Jordan.' Ms Fleming said that refugees arriving in Jordan say that thousands more are waiting to cross the border but are lying low because of fighting in Deraa, just over the border in Syria.

54,142 more Syrians have registered as refugees in Lebanon. 16,000 have travelled to Iraqi Kurdistan.

But there are now fears that these countries will close their borders to new refugees. Some officials from Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan have said that they may be reaching capacity and may close their borders. The Turks are already refusing entry to 9,000 refugees near the Syrian border because screening procedures are progressing slowly and Israel's Defence Minister Ehud Barak has said that Israel will repel Syrian refugees.

Bill Frelick, Refugee Program director at Human Rights Watch said that sending refugees back would be unlawful. It would constitute 'unlawful forced return to persecution'.

There are also large numbers of refugees waiting to cross into Iraq. The Iraqi government closed the crossing at Al Qaim and hundreds of refugees are stranded in a bus station in the Syrian town of Bab al-Salama. Mr Frelick said 'Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon deserve great credit for having kept their borders open to Syrian refugees. As violence in Syria escalates and the number of refugee arrivals accelerates, it is all the more critical for borders to remain open. '

A Human Rights Watch statement said 'To date, the international community has donated US$64 million to UNHCR, in response to the UN refugee agency's appeal for US$193 million, about a third of total needs. In addition, the Arab League and the United States have each pledged US$100 million in assistance to host countries, while Saudi Arabia has raised at least US$72.5 million. It is essential for donor countries to generously assist countries that are host to the largest numbers of refugees, including providing support to open camps, Human Rights Watch said.

The refugee exodus is becoming a regional crisis. Turkey has issued requests for assistance from the UN and from other countries. The Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said last week that a buffer zone should be created within Syria to prevent the outflow but that was rejected today, 29th August 2012, by President Assad of Syria in a television interview.

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