Syria crisis spiralling out of control: flood of refugees overwhelming aid effort

Published: 28th February 2013

Aid money pledged must be quickly released to address urgent needs, says Oxfam

Syria’s humanitarian crisis is spinning out of control, leaving relief agencies overstretched and struggling to cope with a massive surge in refugee numbers and with promised funds still yet to arrive on the ground, warns international aid agency, Oxfam.

Some 5,000 refugees are fleeing Syria every day, 36 per cent more than were leaving in December last year. Many are wearing just the clothes on their backs. The UN’s “worst-case scenario” forecast that one million-plus refugees will have fled Syria by June is likely to be realised within weeks.

Although $1.5 billion for the Syria humanitarian response was promised at a donor conference in Kuwait last month, only 20% of funding has been received.

“The humanitarian crisis is worsening day by day, leaving agencies struggling to provide help that’s desperately needed”, said Francis Lacasse, Oxfam’s Syria crisis response manager. “Money that was generously promised a month ago is urgently needed now, to allow agencies to continue providing basic services like food, water and shelter, to ever-growing refugee populations.

A threat to stability in the region

“More than five thousand people are fleeing Syria into neighbouring countries every day, placing a massive burden on the host communities and with the potential to undermine stability in the region.”

Since the conflict began almost two years ago, more than 925,000 Syrians have fled the conflict. Inside Syria, where more than two million more have been displaced from their homes, the costs of basic commodities have increased; health facilities have been damaged or destroyed; and contaminated water supplies have resulted in an increase in waterborne diseases such as Hepatitis A and typhoid.

Lebanon and Jordan, which host the largest numbers, are to be commended for keeping their borders open and continuing to provide assistance for the refugees, despite severely strained resources. This month, Jordan recorded its highest-ever figure, with more than 50,000 new arrivals.

Refugee numbers have doubled in Egypt over the last three months; risen by almost one-fifth in Turkey since the start of the year; and Iraq already hosts refugee numbers much larger than it had forecast for the end of June.

Tensions over sparse resources

In Jordan, more than 120,000 refugees are officially registered at the sprawling Zaatari desert camp, near the Syrian border. The camp, the size of a large city, is almost full to capacity. The massive influx Is already creating tensions and conflict over sparse resources. The Jordanian government will need additional financial support to provide a safe environment for the refugees and its own population.

Aid agencies in the camp are also facing challenges because of the sudden upsurge in refugee numbers. Oxfam is installing water and hygiene facilities in what was meant to be a new, unfilled section of the camp. But the fast-moving crisis has meant the agency has had to provide temporary facilities for thousands of refugees who have moved in before permanent facilities have been completed, creating extra work and adding to overall costs.

The Jordanian government is planning to open at least two new camps to house the refugees.

But most Syrians refugees live outside camps, scattered in towns and villages both here in Jordan and in other countries neighbouring Syria, where its harder for them to access aid. Rental prices for housing have shot up, while health and school facilities have struggled to keep pace with increased demands, creating new hardships for both the refugees and their hosts.

A huge challenge for months and years to come

“This is likely to be a prolonged crisis and agencies and governments need to prepare for the long-haul”, said Oxfam’s Francis Lacasse. “Even if there was an immediate halt to the violence today, there will be massive humanitarian needs that will need to be addressed for months and years to come. There is no quick fix.”

Humanitarian agencies recognize that host communities have been extraordinarily generous in helping the new arrivals, but tensions could arise in the future because of the increased costs of living, finding shelter and other services and limited job opportunities.

Oxfam’s $18 million emergency appeal for the Syria crisis to help up to 120,000 people is less than 5% funded. Oxfam teams are planning to assist 120,000 people in Lebanon and Jordan. Donate to Oxfam's Syria response

More than five thousand people are fleeing Syria into neighbouring countries every day, placing a massive burden on the host communities.
Francis Lacasse
Oxfam’s Syria crisis response manager

Notes to editors

1. More than $1.5bn was pledged to help civilians affected by the conflict in Syria at a donor conference in Kuwait on 30 January.

2. Images from Lebanon and Jordan are available at: 

Contact information

For interviews with Oxfam spokespeople in Jordan, Lebanon and the UK please contact:

  • Caroline Gluck on +44 7867 976041 or +962 7906 25217 or; 
  • Rebecca Wynn on + 44 (0) 7769 887139 or; 
  • Ian Bray on +44 (0)1865 472289 or +44 (0)7721 461339 or

Related links

A difficult refuge from Syria conflict for thousands in Lebanon

Crisis in Syria

Photos: Oxfam's work in refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon

Video: Oxfam aid delivery in Zaatari camp, Jordan