Syrian refugees to double or triple by end of 2013 -- UNHCR

The number of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries could double or triple amid the huge funding shortfall which pushes the aid operations in the country to the breaking point, warned a senior official with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Tuesday.

To date, there are 1.3 million Syrian refugees registered or with appointments with UNHCR having fled to neighboring countries, with three-quarters as women and children, said Panos Moumtzis, Syria Regional Refugee Coordinator of UNHCR.

The aid official said that it was a significant increase compared to one year ago when the figure was 30,000. In face of the deteriorating situation, he said efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees were obstructed by the huge funding shortfall and underlined the funding as "one of the most critical points as of today."

UNHCR appealed for over US$ 1 billion to help estimated 1.1 million refugees in December 2012, and has received roughly about US$ 300 million so far, said the official.

"We want to ring the alarm bell. We are at a breaking point," said Moumtzis, emphasizing that the lack of funding creates huge vulnerabilities such as exploitation and abuse, with women and children particularly affected. He also warned that many assistance programs would have to shut down if funds fail to come quickly.

Among the programs requiring urgent funding is the construction of new refugee camps to resolve the problem of overcrowding in existing camps so as to prevent the outbreak of health issues.

"We fear that if the current level of insecurity, (and) if the current situation of no political solution continues, we may see a doubling or a tripling, or more, of the number of refugees that we have today in the region (by the end of this year)," said Moumtzis, adding that over 200,000 Syrians are crossing the border in search of safety every month. Moumtzis stated that UNHCR would hold a donors briefing at Geneva on May 28 to present assistance plans.