By MAGGIE FICK, Associated Press
CAIRO (AP) — The U.N. refugee agency said Thursday the number of Syrian refugees who have fled their country's civil war and found shelter in Egypt has now topped 150,000 — a significant jump from last month's figure of 95,000.
The director of UNHCR in Egypt, Mohamed Dayri, said that despite the growing number of refugees in Egypt, only 4,800 Syrians have registered with the agency in Cairo. He called on Egyptian authorities to help UNHCR deal with the "rising emergency" of Syrian refugees here.
A U.N. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media, suggested Syria's neighbors who have taken in refugees — Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan — are "reaching (the) saturation point," prompting an influx into Egypt, where the cost of living is cheaper.
Egypt does not share a border with Syria, but the Egyptian government allows Syrians to enter without a visa.
Syria's uprising, which began in March 2011, has killed more than 33,000 people, according to activists. The violence has displaced more than one million Syrians inside the country, and also triggered an exodus of people from the country.
Figures released by the U.N. humanitarian office last week indicate more than 340,000 people have fled across Syria's borders, mainly seeking refuge in neighboring nations. The largest number — more than 100,000 — have found refuge in Jordan. OCHA expects the total number of Syrian refugees to reach 710,000 by the end of the year.
Dayri said that although the humanitarian crisis linked to the exodus of hundreds of thousands of refugees has so far been confined to Syria's four neighboring countries, the U.N. is now seeing an increase in arrivals of Syrians fleeing violence in North Africa, especially Egypt.
UNHCR says many Syrians arriving in Egypt are living off their savings instead of registering with the U.N., but predict that the number of Syrians wanting to register may spike once their individual resources dry up.
Dayri said senior U.N. officials met with the Egyptian officials this week in Cairo to discuss the growing number of Syrian refugees in the country. He said that the U.N. is urging Egypt to maintain an "open door policy" not only for Syrians, but also for Palestinian refugees in Syria who also are fleeing the civil war.
"The Palestinian refugees should be treated equally like Syrians who are fleeing violence and insecurity," Dayri said.
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