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UN: Syrian refugees overwhelm Jordan camp

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 29, 2013 at 8:12 am •  Published: January 29, 2013

ZAATARI, Jordan (AP) — A wave of 21,000 Syrian refugees in the past week, moving into northern Jordan at about five times the usual daily rate, has overwhelmed this crowded camp already struggling with flooding, short supplies and tent fires.

As newly arrived refugees unpacked on Monday, one family's tent went up in flames after kerosene spewed onto a nearby heater. Black smoke poured into the sky. The family's meager possessions were incinerated. In a sign of frustration, some refugees pelted a fire truck with stones, cracking its windshield, saying the firefighters were slow to respond.

"Almost every day, one or two tents catch fire," said 22-year-old Abu Anis, who like most refugees interviewed at the camp asked to be identified by his nickname because he feared retaliation against relatives still living in Syria. "Thank God, other people haven't been hurt because the tents are so close together."

The United Nations says the huge influx of Syrian refugees crossing into neighboring Jordan during the past week was larger than anticipated and left its agencies, already suffering from a funding shortfall, reeling under the influx. U.N. officials are crying out for more funding as they rush to build showers, toilets and a school for the newcomers.

The UNICEF representative to Jordan, Dominque Hyde, said more than 21,000 Syrian refugees arrived at Jordan's sole refugee camp just in the past week.

"We were expecting larger numbers in the new year, but not the 3,000 a day that have been coming across to Zaatari camp," she said.

New arrivals — most of them coming from southern Syria where fighting has been intense — were crossing into Jordan at about five times the rate anticipated, according to Andrew Harper of the U.N. refugee agency in Jordan. Until recently, an average of 700 refugees arrived at the desert facility each day.

International donors have pledged less than 3 percent to a $1 billion U.N. appeal made last month to aid the more than 670,000 Syrian refugees estimated to have fled to surrounding countries during the 22-month uprising to topple President Bashar Assad. The U.N. says it hopes a donor conference for Syrian refugees Wednesday in Kuwait will rectify the dire funding situation.

Harper said the Jordanian government has done what it can to provide protection to the 320,000 Syrian refugees it now hosts, but it cannot continue to bear the strain. The U.N. refugee agency said Syrian refugees in Jordan required about $500,000 in assistance. About one-fifth the refugees live in the camp, while the rest shelter in mainly northern communities.

Crossing into Jordan was frightening for Abu Nidal, a 50-year-old farmer from near the Golan Heights. He and 180 others, including women and children, were forced to row across territory flooded by waters from the Yarmouk River.

"The women and children were so afraid because the small boats were rickety and the water (was) deep," he said. "It took eight hours, but we finally arrived safely with the help of the young men and the Jordanian army."

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