Middle East

Syria conflict: Neighbours plead for international help

Kawergost refugee camp in Irbil, Iraq, 22 September 2013
Image caption Countries bordering Syria have seen vast numbers of refugee arrivals

Syria's neighbours have asked donors for support in dealing with the huge influx of refugees at a meeting in Geneva.

Foreign ministers from Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq presented reports at the meeting, hosted by the UN.

More than two million Syrians have fled the conflict in their country, and many more have been displaced internally.

Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he would comply with a plan to rid his country of chemical weapons.

"Of course we have to comply. This is our history. We have to comply with every treaty we sign,'' he told Italy's RAI News 24.

On Friday, the UN Security Council passed a binding resolution to eliminate Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons by mid-2014.

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Media captionAssad: "Of course we have to comply. This is our history to comply with every treaty we sign"

Inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is tasked with implementing the plan, left for Syria on Monday.

A separate team of inspectors, from the UN, has been investigating allegations of chemical weapons attacks and left Syria after concluding its work there.

These include an attack on 21 August in Damascus that left hundreds dead and triggered a threat of international military action against Mr Assad's forces.

At the United Nations in New York, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem accused "well-known" countries of backing "terrorists" fighting the Syrian government and of threatening "blatant military aggression outside the mandate of the Security Council".

He said Syria had "repeatedly embraced" a political solution, and would co-operate with the OPCW - but added that outside states which he accused of supplying chemical weapons to Syrian rebels had to abide by their commitments as well.

"Any political solution in light of the continued support of terrorism, whether through supplying arms, funding or training, is mere illusion and misleading," he said.

Struggling to cope

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has been warning that the number of Syrian refugees is threatening the political and social cohesion of the whole region.

"Syria has been burning for too long," UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres said as he opened the Geneva meeting. "This burden is far too heavy to be borne by only the neighbouring countries."

He said the international community should put in place more robust measures to share the burden of sheltering "an unrelenting flood of Syrian refugees" with Syria's neighbours.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the arrival of more than 240,000 Syrian refugees since mid-September in Iraqi Kurdistan "had created a substantial burden on available resources and local economies".

The number of refugees might reach 350,000 by the end of 2013, he continued, and as winter approaches, "we require increased support from the international community".

Jordan's Foreign Minister, Nasser Judeh, said pressure on resources and public services were reaching "unbearable levels" and that the cost the Jordanians were paying as a result of this crisis was "unprecedented".

"The host communities' resilience has been undermined dramatically and public opinion is changing," he said.

Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the international community had "fallen short" in its response to the humanitarian crisis and "failed to provide an effective humanitarian response to put an end to this senseless violence".

Lebanon does not have the money, housing, schools or hospitals to cope, while Jordan and Turkey, with some 500,000 refugees each, are believed to have spent at least $2bn (£1.25bn) caring for them, the BBC's Imogen Foulkes reports from Geneva.

In an attempt to prevent Syria's neighbours closing their borders, traditional donors are being asked financial support and offers to host some of the most vulnerable refugees, she says.

But the UN's $4.4bn appeal for Syrian refugees is only 50% funded, and there has been little response to appeals for Western states to resettle Syrians.

Britain and the US have not committed to accepting any so far, Germany will take 5,000, Austria 500.

Earlier, UNHCR spokesman Peter Kessler said the agency would appeal "for more support for the host countries including direct budget support but also of course aid in areas like provision of health care, education, infrastructure and other projects".

"For many of these countries such as for small Lebanon and Jordan, the influx of Syrian refugees represents a huge proportion of those countries' current population," he told the BBC.

Unrest in Syria began in March 2011, developing into a conflict in which more than 100,000 people are estimated to have been killed.