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Rich nations, including UK, must accept more Syrian refugees - campaigners

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 29 Aug 2014 12:36 GMT
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Syrian children play outside their tent at a refugee camp in Lebanon's Bekaa valley May 22, 2014. REUTERS/Caren Firouz
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LONDON, Aug 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Rich nations should offer a safe haven to more Syrians fleeing conflict, campaigners said on Friday, as the number of Syrian refugees topped three million.

Releasing the latest Syrian refugee numbers, the United Nations said a further 6.5 million people were displaced within Syria, which means "almost half of all Syrians have now been forced to abandon their homes and flee for their lives".

The bulk of the refugees are living in neighbouring countries. Lebanon, alone, hosts 1.14 million Syrian refugees, followed by Turkey which hosts 815,000 and Jordan with 608,000 refugees.

Last month, the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, said some 123,600 Syrians had sought asylum in Europe since the conflict erupted in March 2011.

"The UK could do more to help resettle the most vulnerable refugees from Syria. To date, it has pledged several hundred refugees places and only 50 Syria refugees have been resettled by June 2014," Oxfam said in a statement.

Refugee Council tweeted that the number of Syrians resettled in Britain so far was "pitiful".

"There are over 1 million refugees from Syria in Lebanon. UK's plan to resettle 'several hundred people' simply isn't good enough," the charity said in a tweet.

Oxfam noted that about 5,000 have been resettled in countries other than those neighbouring Syria through a U.N. scheme - amounting to 0.16 percent of the registered refugee population.

"It is shocking that over three years into a crisis which shows no sign of abating, under the U.N. refugee resettlement scheme rich countries have taken in a mere 5,000 of the 3 million registered refugees who are often struggling to survive from one day to the next," said Andy Baker, head of Oxfam’s Syria crisis response, in a statement.

Oxfam also said funding shortfalls had forced it to halt cash payments helping 6,500 refugees in Jordan. It said in June, the United Nations was forced to cut its funding target for Syrian refugees to $3.74 billion from $4.2 billion because of a lack of donor funds.

"With 10.8 million more people needing help inside Syria and indiscriminate attacks on civilians claiming more lives each week, more and more families will be forced to seek sanctuary," Baker said.

"Refugees are increasingly depleting their savings and assets: with opportunities to work in neighbouring countries often limited or non-existent, people have few choices left open to them and many can’t see how they can provide for their families in the future." 

The exodus from Syria is one of the largest forced migrations of people since World War Two.

Syrians now constitute the world's largest refugee population under the care of the UNHCR, second only in number to refugees in the decades-old Palestinian crisis that falls under the mandate of a separate U.N. agency UNRWA, the United Nations said.

(Editing by Ros Russell, rosalind.russell@thomsonreuters.com)

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