A sea of UNHCR tents awaits newly arrived Syrian refugees at a transit centre in northern Iraq. The number of Syrian refugees has passed the 2 million mark. Photo by: L. Veide / UNHCR

Another revision of the Syria regional response plan may just be on its way, after UNHCR announced on Tuesday the number of Syrian refugee numbers have passed the 2 million mark.

In June, the United Nations and its partners made their historic $5 billion appeal to deal with the Syrian crisis. Close to $3 billion of that amount was meant for aid agencies’ response in neighboring countries hosting the refugees.

But with the crisis showing no signs of easing anytime soon, it’s not too hard to imagine that aid groups will soon be asking for more donor support.

“The needs are mounting. And there has to be a preparedness among governments, and individuals, not just donors, to kick in more support,” UNHCR regional spokesperson Peter Kessler told Devex.

He added the international community can certainly expect a “version 6” of the response plan in the next few months.

On the discussion table

On Wednesday, UNHCR is set to meet with the ministers of Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, four of the five host countries experiencing an increased burden in the number of refugees fleeing Syria. The discussion is aimed at exploring how the parties can increase international support.

But this is not the only topic on the table, according to Kessler, who said a shift in the global response to the crisis and a reaffirmation of borders remaining open will also be on the agenda.

“We need to talk about the current refugee situation and discuss the future. But just as well, we need governments to begin - both in the region and donor governments - to begin discussing the handover from immediate humanitarian relief to development aid,” he said.

“This crisis is now well into its third year. It’s not just an issue of tents and plastic shipping, but now the development of water, sanitation, health centers, schools. In refugee hosting areas, it involves opening discussions on turning tented refugee camps into potential housing estates.”

The latter, he said, would be vital, particularly as winter approaches.

“It’s also very important that despite the enormous burden, that borders be kept open, so the people can arrive and also so they don’t swell into cities like Beirut, or Amman.”

Operational constraints, such as limitations on education provisions, lengthy registration processes and other government restrictions, are also expected to be discussed at the meeting.

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Coming months

UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres initially predicted the crisis would reach 2 million by December, not mid-year, as it has now happened.

Kessler said the speed of the crisis is moving at such an astounding rate that there is fear the numbers could reach the worst-case scenario of 3.5 million.

“We don’t have a crystal ball; we don’t know how many more may flee. But inside Syria, there are now some 4.25 million internally displaced people,” he noted. “Hopefully, there’ll be peace tomorrow, or soon, and all these millions of people can go home. But in the absence of a solution to the crisis, we must be prepared to more displacement within Syria and more refugees fleeing outside the country.”

Kessler did not comment on issues of donor fatigue in Syria, a trend in protracted crises, but he stressed the need for donors to meet the immediate humanitarian and longer term needs of the “uprooted” population.

UNHCR special envoy Angelina Jolie however did express her fears over this: “The world risks being dangerously complacent about the Syrian humanitarian disaster.”

“The world is tragically disunited on how to end the Syria conflict,” commented the Hollywood actress. “But there should be no disagreement over the need to alleviate human suffering, and no doubt of the world’s responsibility to do more. We have to support the millions of innocent people ripped from their homes, and increase the ability of neighbouring countries to cope with the influx.”

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.