Syrian exodus to Jordan intensifies as UN ups refugee forecasts (Jordan Times, 17/12/2012)

Syrians poured into Jordan in record numbers early Sunday as the UN warned that the ongoing conflict may lead to as many as 1.8 million refugees by 2013.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), increased violence in southern Syria drove 1,537 Syrians into Jordan early Sunday, the highest one-day tally of refugees in over two months.

Around 10 of the new arrivals were wounded, a security source said, reflecting an ongoing trend in which more and more Syrians are arriving in the Kingdom with injuries.

Authorities took the wounded Syrians, who had suffered multiple gunshot and shrapnel wounds, to Mafraq Public Hospital, where five were listed in critical condition, added the source, who was not authorised to speak on the record.

Sunday’s influx came amid intensified clashes between regime and rebel forces in southern Syria as Damascus’ new offensive to rout the rebels from their strongholds enters its second week.

According to activists, regime forces on Saturday began pummelling Daraa, Nasib, Tal Shihab and other cities in southern Syria with artillery shells in a bid to reassert control over rebel strongholds.

Rebel forces and eyewitnesses reported particularly heavy shelling along the 370 kilometre long Jordanian-Syrian border, of which the Free Syrian Army claims to control “over 80 per cent”.

“The regime is using MiG-21 fighters, SCUD missiles, tanks — everything it can — to destroy southern Syria,” said Abu Hani, a Free Syrian Army coordinator based outside of Daraa.

“The regime knows it is entering its final days, and it is determined to take down every Syrian with it.”

The intensified shelling has prompted fresh concerns over the fate of some 15,000 internally displaced Syrians currently caught in the crossfire along the border, with activists warning of more mass waves of refugees in the coming days.

“Every man, woman, and child in southern Syria now faces three options: fight, flee or die,” Abu Hani said.

Also on Sunday, the UN urged the international community to intensify its Syrian refugee response, warning that the worsening conflict may push the number of Syrian refugees to 1.8 million next year.

According to UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, ongoing violence is likely to lead to a “difficult” humanitarian situation in Syria in 2013, with the UN bracing for the influx of between 1.1 and 1.8 million Syrian refugees by the end of next year.

“We are preparing for the possibility of 2013 being much more difficult than 2012,” Guterres said during a joint press conference with European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Kristalina Georgieva

UNHCR and some 50 partner agencies are set to up their Syrian aid appeal on December 19 in order to prepare for the influx of “hundreds of thousands” of Syrians in the months to come, according to the UN officials.

Declining to disclose the amount of the appeal, Guterres noted that the needed funds to continue the humanitarian response will be “substantially higher” than in 2012.

The renewed aid plea comes amid an ongoing funding shortfall, with the UN having secured some 50 per cent of a $450 million aid appeal launched earlier this year.

During a regional tour earlier this month, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned that the ongoing funding gap is hindering efforts to meet the needs of the over 500,000 registered Syrian refugees across the region.

Jordan follows an ongoing open-border policy that has led to the entry of over 250,000 Syrian refugees, many more than Syria’s other neighbours have taken in.

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