In a sign of just how desperate the humanitarian situation in Syria has become, the UN High Commission for Refugees today appointed a regional coordinator to manage aid to the outflux of refugees--Panos Moumtzis, the same man who headed up all humantarian aid to Libya last year.
In his first briefing to press on the situation today, Moumtzis gave a sense of the picture unfolding:
Official data from surrounding countries and UNHCR’s own registration figures indicate that around 30,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries while significant numbers of Syrians are thought to be displaced inside Syria.
That 30,000 is actually not a huge number--last year, the Ivory Coast crisis sent more than three times that number over the border to Liberia. But what that number tells us is that the real displacement story is internal--where humanitarian aid cannot reach. The Syrian Red Crescent puts the number of internally displaced at 200,000. Meanwhile, the media arm of the Syrian National Council opposition group estimates that more than 65,000 people are simply "missing." More from Moumtzis:
UNHCR has observed that refugees and Syrians have moved out of areas of unrest, with many choosing villages at the outskirts of the main cities, as well as rural Damascus and Damascus Governorate itself, that are considered more secure.
One reason people are not simply leaving Syria? Human Rights Watch today reports that the military has been planting landmines along the borders with Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey.
On top of all this, Mousmtzis points out that there are still 110,000 refugees from Iraq living in Syria. I can't imagine how terrible it would be to be met with war again, this time in a country to which you fled.
Inside Syria itself, Iraqi refugees report a significant increase in the price of basic commodities, due to inflation and the devaluation of the Syrian pound, now around 50% of what it was last in March last year. UNHCR continues to support more than 11,000 of the most destitute refugee families through its financial assistance programme (with an average contribution of US$180 per family per month) and from March the office will help meet the food needs of approximately 97,000 refugees through a cash assistance-ATM programme. Together with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and other national and international partners a number of basic services are also provided to help the refugee population to cope with an increasingly difficult socio-economic situation.