LONDON (AlertNet) - Thousands of Syrian refugees in Jordan are struggling to find enough food to eat and risk being thrown out of temporary accommodation because they cannot pay the rent, according to Refugees International (RI).
The independent advocacy group estimates that some 125,000 Syrians have crossed into Jordan and Lebanon, fleeing a bloody crackdown by the Syrian government on opposition protestors. The United Nations says more than 9,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March 2011.
U.N. agencies put the number of Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries, including Iraq and Turkey, who have been registered, or are waiting to be registered, at around 78,000 - more than double the number at the beginning of April.
But that official figure is unlikely to represent the full picture, with most refugees living with host families or in rented accommodation rather than in publicly provided shelters.
Daryl Grisgraber, a senior advocate with Washington-based RI, said many women she talked to on a recent trip to Jordan were worried about being evicted or the threat of eviction because they did not have money to pay the rent.
"Almost everyone we spoke to who wasn't getting the regular (aid) distributions said they had not enough food, and no way to buy food, because it's tough for people to get positions that earn money," she told AlertNet in a telephone interview.
"Medical issues seem to be reasonably well taken care of, so it's very much the basic survival needs that people feel are not being addressed adequately."
It has been difficult for aid workers to find and reach some refugees who have dispersed across urban areas in Jordan, and a better system is needed to ensure they get help, Grisgraber said, adding: "People are already falling through the cracks."
The problems facing Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon underline that neither country is in a good position to accept thousands of poor, vulnerable Syrians, due to their weak economies and domestic political tensions, RI said this week.
Individual households are hosting the bulk of Syrian refugees in both countries, but they have limited resources due to high unemployment and thinning social safety nets. Asking them to support refugees financially is untenable and could also spark conflict if aid agencies do not step in, RI warned.
In Lebanon, people are concerned that having guests will hike their utility and fuel costs to unaffordable levels once colder weather sets in, Grisgraber said. More help is needed in the form of cash to pay for rent and bills, she added.
"Aid providers have the right ideas when it comes to supporting communities, but can't implement them fast enough," she said in a statement issued earlier this week. "For them to meet families' needs and diffuse tension, they need more resources, and that means a much greater commitment from the United States, the Gulf countries and other major donors."
REVISED RESPONSE PLAN DUE
An international appeal for $84 million for aid agencies' activities to help Syrian refugees in the region was only 36 percent funded as of Monday, according to the United Nations.
The response plan for refugees is due to be extended until the end of this year, with a revised version to be presented to donors in Geneva in late June.
Grisgraber said in addition to an improved system to help refugees in Jordanian cities, the aid effort in Lebanon requires a centralised process of registration and aid distribution to strengthen coordination between municipalities and aid agencies.
She also urged the Syrian authorities to let all those who want to leave the country to do so. Women and children have been able to get out, but many men aged between 18 and 56 have had to stay behind, she noted.
The U.N. children's fund (UNICEF) estimates that around half of all Syrian refugees are children and adolescents, who face disrupted schooling, limited access to basic services and psychological distress.
"Young men are sending their families to safety and that process - because the Syrian police are keeping young men in Syria - is splitting up the families," RI's Grisgraber said.
The refugees she spoke to on her recent visits to Lebanon and Jordan were keen to return to Syria, but some told the RI team they would not go back until the current Syrian government under President Bashar al-Assad has fallen.
In the meantime, those faced with dwindling resources, food shortages and the threat of eviction from temporary homes are not sure how they will cope, she said.
"They told us, 'It's in God's hands'. There's no real plan and they don't really know what they will do," she said.