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"We are broke," U.N. says as Syria refugee funds dry up

Syrian refugees carry aid and ration at the Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria October 22, 201
Syrian refugees carry aid and ration at the Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria October 22, 201

By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations gave its starkest warning yet on Friday that it would soon run out of cash to cope with the vast influx of Syrian refugees into Jordan and other neighboring countries.

"The needs are rising exponentially, and we are broke," Marixie Mercado, spokeswoman for the U.N. Children's Fund UNICEF, told a U.N. news conference in Geneva.

The number of people fleeing in the world's worst refugee crisis has repeatedly outrun the U.N.'s expectations. The 1.25 million refugees, three-quarter of them women and children, is 10 percent higher than had been expected by June.

With more than 3.6 million people internally displaced within Syria and no end to the two-year conflict in sight, there is every chance that the exodus could keep growing.

"Since the beginning of the year, more than 2,000 refugees have streamed across the borders (into Jordan) every day. We expect these numbers to more than double by July and triple by December," Mercado said.

"By the end of 2013, we estimate there will be 1.2 million Syrian refugees in Jordan - equivalent to about one-fifth of Jordan's population."

The impact of funding drying up would include a halt in 3.5 million liters of daily water deliveries to Jordan's Za'atari camp, which houses more than 100,000 refugees, mostly children.

Almost 11,000 Syrians have arrived in Za'atari in the past week, the International Organization for Migration said.

U.N. officials said the funding shortage was affecting the whole region, not just Jordan, and all humanitarian agencies.

While the humanitarian agencies have so far managed to prevent major health problems among the refugees, policing the huge and growing population is becoming more difficult.

UNHCR has reported multiple demonstrations at Za'atari at the end of March due to a shortage of buses to take refugees back to Syria, people "frequently" trying to smuggle items out of the camp, and violence over the distribution of new caravans.

The other countries hosting large numbers of Syrian refugees are Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.

Most of the displaced people within Syria are in northern and central areas rather than the southern regions close to Jordan, according to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, the main humanitarian agency on the ground. Fighting in Raqqa province recently drove 35,000 into Deir al-Zor on a single day, it said.

Figures from the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR show the biggest country donors so far in 2013 are the United States, European Union and Japan. UNHCR has received $162 million, one-third of the $494 million it needs for the first half of this year.

China has donated $1 million, earmarked for refugees in Turkey. Russia does not appear on the list of donors to UNHCR.

"So far very little has come in," Mercado said. "We are doing a lot, we are doing an enormous amount. But the needs are just extraordinary. And they are growing every day."

(Editing by Jon Hemming)

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