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'Overwhelmed' aid agencies seek $340M to help refugees flooding out of Syria

Muhammad Hamed / Reuters

Syrian refugees fleeing violence in their country take a break after they crossed into Jordanian territory with their families from Syria into Jordan, near the town of Ramtha on Sept. 15.

Aid agencies need more than $340 million to help hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the violence in Syria, the United Nations said in a statement Thursday.

The U.N. issued an appeal for extra money and predicted 700,000 refugees would be living in neighboring countries by the end of the year. There were 41,500 Syrians refugees outside the country in March, according to the U.N.

The U.N. said that it had to date received $141.5 million in response to a previous appeal for $193.2 million, but it said it now needed a total of $487.9 million.

The statement said that 2,000 to 3,000 refugees were crossing into neighboring countries every day.

"Many refugees are arriving with only the clothes on their backs," Panos Moumtzis, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees’ regional coordinator for Syrian Refugees, said in the statement. "Some have been displaced many times before leaving Syria. They need humanitarian assistance from day one."

The Syria conflict will be top priority at the U.N. this week.  So far it's been powerless to stop the violence. NBC's Bill Neely reports from Homs.

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"Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey have set the example, keeping their borders open for Syrians fleeing violence. The neighboring countries cannot do this alone. The international community must continue to demonstrate solidarity," he added.

'Traumatic'
Moumtzis told a news briefing that Syrian refugees had “come out with traumatic experiences,” Reuters reported.

"We have been overwhelmed with catching up basically, because every week we have another 15,000 to 20,000 who have arrived,” he added.

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A look back at the violence that has overtaken the country

U.N. aid agencies and other humanitarian groups are struggling to provide winterized tents, caravans, blankets, clothing, and food for the numbers expected to be staying in camps or as guests in host communities by the end of the year.

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The UNHCR agency forecast that Jordan could host 250,000 by the end of the year, Lebanon 120,000, Turkey 280,000 and Iraq 60,000.

The statement said women and children made up 75 per cent of the refugee population.

Egypt's new president Mohammed Morsi addressed the United Nations General Assembly and urged an end to the civil war in Syria.

"The race is really on to ensure that all Syrian refugee children are in school, fully immunized and properly clothed for the cold weather that's fast approaching," Maria Cavilis, the United Nations Children’s Fund’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said. "UNICEF is ready to provide this support, but what is missing is the funding."

Emad Hajjaj / Jordan, Politicalcartoons.com

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The uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, which erupted in March last year, has become an armed insurgency in which activists say 30,000 people have been killed.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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