UN official: Refugee exodus to Europe comes from lack of aid to Lebanon, Jordan
Migrants arrive on the shores of the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey on a dinghy on Sept. 10, 2015. (AFP/Angelos Tzortzinis)
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The influx of refugees to Europe was triggered in part by donors taking the "cheap option" and not giving enough aid to displaced Syrians in Lebanon and Jordan, the head of the UN refugee agency in Jordan said on Wednesday.
Harper told The Associated Press in an interview that refugees feel betrayed by the international community and the aid agencies. This, he said, "is a reason why we are seeing movement back into Syria, and in many cases, movements continue on into Europe and further afield."
"The smartest move would have been for Europe and the Gulf states and everyone to provide more support to countries like Jordan and Lebanon two or three years ago when we were asking for it," he said.
"(The donors) sought the cheap option which was to provide us with peanuts in order to deal with the worst humanitarian situation for decades," he added.
The UN refugee agency has a funding shortfall of 50 percent, or $500 million, for the Syria crisis this year, he said.
Harper said resettlement in Europe will only make a small dent and the international community must do more to help the millions who remain in the Middle Eastern asylum countries and displaced inside Syria.
"It just makes sense, for no other reason than that it is more cost-effective to address humanitarian needs in countries of asylum, such as Jordan and Lebanon, than it is to deal with them once they get to Europe," he said.
Harper's comments reflected the growing frustration of those aiding more than four million Syrian refugees in host countries such as Jordan and Lebanon. Severely underfunded aid groups have had to slash food and cash support in recent months, leading to growing desperation.
The European Union is imploring member countries to better share the burden of refugees flooding the continent, but the numbers being discussed are small compared with the half-million who have already arrived and hundreds of thousands more on their way.
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