US doubles aid to world's burgeoning refugees

The United States on Thursday doubled its aid to the UN refugee organization to some $890 million, as officials warned one person every four seconds flees their home to escape war and strife.

"We blink our eyes 15 times every minute, so every time you blink there is one new more person forced to flee," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, adding it showed "how dramatic the displacement problem is."

The world was now struggling with more refugees and displaced people than at any time since the 1994 Rwandan genocide, he told an event to mark World Refugee Day hosted by the US State Department.

Most of those refugees are streaming out of Syria, trying to escape a brutal conflict now in its third year to oust President Bashar al-Assad. Some 1.6 million Syrians have fled, and over 4 million are internally displaced.

"More important than the numbers is the depths of human tragedy," Guterres said, speaking from Jordan where he spent the morning visiting Syrian children housed in a camp.

The UNHCR estimates that "in the first six months there will be more refugees coming out of Syria than all the refugees that came from all parts of the world into neighboring countries in the whole of 2012."

US Secretary of State John Kerry agreed "the challenges that we're here to talk about today are monumental, they are humbling."

But he said there was a "global, moral responsibility that we have to try to deal with people who face some of the toughest circumstances on earth."

"Today, I announced that we are nearly doubling our contributions this year to the UNHCR. We are giving to the High Commission on Refugees a $415 million commitment that brings our 2013 total to $890 million."

The sum makes the United States the largest single contributor to the UNHCR, Kerry added.

In addition the United States has also promised some $815 million in humanitarian aid to the Syrian refugees, which is being disbursed mainly through UN agencies to help provide water, food and shelter.