AMMAN, Jordan — More than 80,000 Syrian refugees have fled the nearly 11 months of violence in their homeland and settled in neighboring Jordan, a Jordanian government official said Sunday.
The skyrocketing number of refugees, which was significantly higher figures than previously reported by the Jordanian government, attests to the growing violence in Syria where President Bashar Assad is trying to suppress a months-long rebellion by Syrians demanding he step down.
Jordanian Information Minister Rakan al-Majali said Sunday that 73,000 refugees have entered the country from Syria across Jordan's northern border. The figure comprises only those refugees who have crossed legally.
Last week, the interior ministry said at least 10,000 Syrians, including officers in the security forces, had entered Jordan illegally since the uprising began, bringing the total number of refugees in the country to roughly 83,000.
The refugees fleeing the crackdown by Assad receive considerable help in Jordan. Many are housed in apartments and some are hosted by Jordanian families and receive assistance from the government, private groups and the U.N.'s refugee agency.
Zaid Hamad, president of the Kitab and Sunna charity, one of the officially recognized aid groups assisting Syrians with housing, food and medical help, said the government's figures were accurate and predicted the numbers would grow.
Hamad said his organization alone is helping at least 20,000 Syrians in the country.
"I believe that within a month that number will continue to grow because we are receiving at least 40 refugees daily," he said.
Aid groups said that as violence deepens in Syria, they expect refugee numbers to climb.
Hamad spoke to The Associated Press as Syrians lined the group's office in the northern town of Ramtha, where they collected food boxes donated by the United Arab Emirates Red Crescent.
Hamid al-Shamisi of the UAE Red Crescent was on hand to distribute 550 boxes of rice, oil, sugar, tea, and other basic food items.
"We are brothers, and it's our duty to help," al-Shamisi told an elderly Syrian man.
One of the women in line, who identified herself only as Um Ahmed, said she had recently fled the city of Homs. The city in central Syria has witnessed a relentless bloody bombardment for more than three weeks.
"We had to escape from the brutal government attack on our city," she said on Friday. "The Assad regime is despicable. There is no safety for us and our children," said the mother of two.
Both Jordanian and U.N. officials said they have prepared a tent camp to house 1,000 Syrian families, should there be a massive influx of Syrian refugees. But so far, most of the refugees appear to be staying in private houses, with family or friends.
The kingdom is estimated to have hosted 1.5 million Iraqis during the height of the country's violence in 2003-2008. The refugees were a huge tax on the country's resources, and many hundreds of thousands still remain in Jordan.