Syria Crisis: Massive Numbers Of Refugees Flee Fighting, U.N. Says

07/06/2012 08:43 am ET | Updated Sep 05, 2012

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA, July 6 (Reuters) - Thousands of families in Syria have fled their homes in the past two weeks due to heavy fighting between government forces and rebels and many face food shortages, the United Nations said on Friday.

Food prices have tripled in parts of seven provinces where the livelihoods of farmers and livestock herders are at risk of collapse because the wheat harvest is being delayed by a shortage of diesel, needed for machinery, it said.

"The overall situation is characterised by severe insecurity and ongoing fighting which means that U.N. agencies do not have access to many areas," Jens Laerke, spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told a news briefing in Geneva.

Many of the 200,000 residents of Douma, 15 km (10 miles) north of the capital, have fled to central Damascus, OCHA said.

Activists said on Wednesday that residents in the "ghost city" recovered mutilated corpses after a rampage by militiamen loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and army shelling.

About 30,000 people have fled the eastern city of Deir al-Zor and moved north towards Hassaka and Al-Raqqa, OCHA said. Civilians are also leaving Hama, Idlib and Al-Raqqa and heading towards Aleppo.

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent has previously estimated that at least 500,000 people are internally displaced in the country.

Syrian authorities and officials from the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) carried out a joint assessment of food security in seven provinces.

AID NEEDED

"Problems with access to diesel for machinery are hampering the wheat harvest and internally displaced families living in urban and peri-urban (beside urban areas) settings are facing rapidly increasing food insecurity," OCHA said. "Urgent food and agriculture and livestock assistance are required before the onset of winter."

The WFP is delivering food to all 14 provinces in Syria, through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, and hopes its supplies will reach 850,000 people in July, it said.

Seven international agencies already helping Iraqi and Palestinian refugees in the country are now providing assistance to Syrians, OCHA said. This was part of an agreement reached between the United Nations and Syrian authorities in June.

"Some of those international NGOs have begun distributing hygiene supplies, medical assistance and other essential items to affected Syrians," Laerke said.

Syrian aid agencies will provide aid in areas where U.N. agencies cannot reach, he said.

More than 10,000 Syrian refugees have been registered in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey in the past two weeks, bringing the total registered in those countries to more than 103,000, according to OCHA.

More than 13,000 Iraqi refugees left Syria during the first half of the year, most returning to the northern Kurdish regions of Iraq, it said.

They were among an estimated 110,000 Iraqi refugees in Syria at the start of the uprising in March 2011, Adrian Edwards of the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said.

A further 10,000 are believed to have fled to Jordan and other areas in Iraq, leaving about 87,000 in Syria. (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Pravin Char)