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UNHCR calls for plan to build emergency camps for Syrians

By Taylor Luck - Feb 21,2013 - Last updated at Feb 21,2013

AMMAN — A growing exodus to Jordan is leading to overcrowding in refugee facilities, a UN official warned on Thursday, calling for an “ambitious” plan to establish several emergency camps.

“We are averaging 2,500 to 3,000 persons per night and we have to find accommodation for them,” said Andrew Harper, UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) representative in Jordan.

According to the UN, the Syrian refugee influx into Jordan has reached an average pace of 70,000 new arrivals per month — requiring the opening of a new refugee camp in the country every 30 days.

The growing influx has pushed the country’s sole camp, the Zaatari Refugee Camp near the border city of Mafraq, past its full capacity, while a second camp with a 30,000 person capacity to be opened near the city of Zarqa is set to be filled in less than two weeks at the current rate of arrivals.

“It takes months to plan, build and prepare refugee camps, but unfortunately, with the numbers we are seeing right now it will only take days and weeks to fill them,” Harper said.

“We need to prepare an ambitious plan for establishing further refugee camps in order to avoid a humanitarian emergency.”

Plans to open the country’s second camp and a third 50,000-capacity camp some 20 kilometres west of Azraq, have been undermined by an ongoing funding gap, with the UN reportedly receiving less than 20 per cent of a record $1.5 billion pledged by the international community last month.

Meanwhile, Syrians continued to flee to Jordan in record numbers early Thursday with the UN reporting some 2,300 crossings, raising the total number of new arrivals over the past 48 hours to around 7,500.

Thursday’s influx came amid reports of rebel gains in southern Syria, with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) preparing a wider assault on regime positions along the border with Jordan.

According to Mohammad Al Damawi, an FSA officer based in southern Syria, rebel forces have pushed their way to the border villages of Al Taybeh and Al Jiza as part of an ongoing offensive to “liberate” the region.

“Free Syrians are now in control of the majority of border villages,” Damawi said.

Despite reportedly controlling up to 80 per cent of the 370-kilometre long Jordanian-Syrian border, rebel forces have repeatedly failed to seize control of the Ramtha and Nasib/Jaber crossing points — Syria’s main conduits into Jordan.

Should they succeed in seizing the crossing points, rebel forces say they aim to facilitate the mass crossing of the estimated 10,000 displaced Syrians currently amassed along the border.

Jordan currently hosts over 360,900 Syrians — a number the UN expects to nearly double by the end of June. 

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