GENEVA - Syrians are fleeing into Jordan in record numbers to escape escalating violence and destruction in their country that is making it increasingly difficult for civilians to survive, the U.N. refugee agency said Friday.
The record influx prompted Jordan's King Abdullah to call Friday for more international aid, even as the Syrian government urged refugees to return. The prospect was met with broad skepticism among anti-government activists.
More than 4,000 Syrians arrived at a camp in Zaatari in northern Jordan on Thursday and another 2,000 people overnight, said Melissa Fleming, the spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
The influx, consisting mainly of families led by women, brought to more than 30,000 the number of Syrians reaching Zaatari this month, close to double the number who arrived in December, Fleming said.
Many had come from the city and suburbs of Daraa, Fleming said, and described a "real day-to-day struggle to survive" in the face of combat damage, the closure of medical facilities and shortages of food, water and electricity.
The Zaatari camp, which opened in July, already has some 65,000 people, and the agency said it was working with Jordanian authorities to open a second camp by the end of the month to initially accommodate 5,000 refugees and eventually serve some 30,000 people. Jordanian authorities say 300,000 Syrians have now entered the country.
Many families arrive with young children or babies, and Zaatari has recorded seven to 10 babies born every day over the past month, according to Fleming. Many Syrians arrived sick because of the collapse of medical services. Three children died in the camp this week, Fleming said.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, King Abdullah issued an urgent call for help. "I cannot emphasize enough the challenges that we are all facing, both in Jordan and Lebanon, and it's only going to get worse," he said.
Jordan's fears for the effects of the influx surfaced last week when Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour said that if the Syrian government collapsed it would not allow refugees to cross its border, but that it would use its military to create safe havens inside Syria.