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The sheer number of Syrian refugees on the move is straining humanitarian aid agencies. We'll hear in a few minutes how the Syrian regime is adding to the refugee crisis. First, a look at the U.N.'s main refugee agency which says donors are far short of the money needed to deal with the issue, so it's cutting its assistance. Aid workers say the deteriorating situation forces refugees to make the long and difficult trek to Europe. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.
JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Every January over the past four years, the U.N.'s refugee agency, UNHCR, has made an international appeal for donations to help Syrians fleeing the war. The money pays for food, shelter, medical treatment and the like in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. But Melissa Fleming, chief spokesperson for the UNHCR, says this year has been disappointing.
MELISSA FLEMING: At the beginning of the year, we made an appeal for $4.5 billion to cover the needs of the 4 million refugees that are living in the neighboring countries. We are now in September, and unfortunately, we have only gotten a small portion of that funding, not even 40 percent.
NORTHAM: The UNHCR, like most of the U.N.'s humanitarian agencies, relies entirely on voluntary contributions from governments, corporations and individuals. If that money is not coming in, aid agencies have to adjust. Abeer Etefa is with the U.N.'s World Food Program. She says the WFP has had to cut off 360,000 Syrian refugees from any sort of assistance and slash food rations for more than a million-and-a-half refugees.
ABEER ETEFA: So right now, it's maximum of $13 or $14 per person per month that they receive in terms of food assistance from the World Food Program. That's less than 50 cents a day to eat and to survive on.
NORTHAM: Etefa says the Syrian refugees in the camps are having to find new ways to cope.
ETEFA: They either eat less, or they're resorting to cheaper food which does not give them the necessary nutrition. And some people are taking drastic measures like taking their children off schools and sending them off to work or marrying off their daughters young.
NORTHAM: Fleming, with the UNHCR, says in the beginning, the refugee camps were a good option for Syrians escaping the war.
FLEMING: Because it was close to home, and they really, truly believed that they could back to Syria. They are losing that hope, unfortunately, and with the conditions worsening in the neighboring countries, many are deciding, well, what do I have to lose? I'm going to risk my life and the lives of my family and get on a boat.
NORTHAM: Nancy Lindborg, president of the U.S. Institute for Peace, says part of the reason raising money has been difficult this year is donor fatigue.
NANCY LINDBORG: Sixty million people are currently displaced around the globe - 60 million. So the requirements are really exceeding the ability to raise that kind of money.
NORTHAM: Lindborg says individuals give very generously after a natural disaster but not for complex conflicts such as the Syrian war unless something personalizes the issue, such as the picture of the 3-year-old Syrian boy who washed ashore on a Turkish beach.
LINDBORG: It refocused people's attention because otherwise, you hear these mind-boggling numbers. You know, the four million refugees are ultimately not as meaningful as a picture of the individual boy who represents, in a very real way, the kind of suffering and the fact that people would take those kind of risks for a better life.
NORTHAM: The U.N.'s refugee agency says about $13 million dollars were donated within a few days after that picture appeared. And the British government announced today it will give roughly $60 million for operations in the Syrian refugee camps. Jackie Northam, NPR News.
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