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US doubles aid to world's burgeoning refugees

A Syrian woman and her child look out of a window at a refugee camp in the Lebanese town of Alman on June 20, 2013
A Syrian woman and her child look out of a window at a refugee camp in the Lebanese town of Alman on June 20, 2013. The United States doubled its aid to the UN refugee organization to some $890 million, as officials warned one person every four seconds fl

The United States on Thursday doubled its aid to the UN refugee organization to some $890 million, as officials said every four seconds another person flees home to escape war and strife.

"We blink our eyes 15 times every minute, so every time you blink there is one more new person forced to flee," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, adding it showed "how dramatic the displacement problem is."

The world is now struggling with more refugees and displaced people than at any time since the 1994 Rwandan genocide, he told an event to mark World Refugee Day hosted by the US State Department.

Most of those refugees are streaming out of Syria, where rebels are battling to oust President Bashar al-Assad in a conflict now in its third year. Some 1.6 million Syrians have fled, and over four million are internally displaced.

"More important than the numbers is the depths of human tragedy," Guterres said from Jordan, where he visited Syrian children housed in a camp.

Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during an event in recognition of World Refugee Day on June 20, 2013 in Washington
US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during an event in recognition of World Refugee Day on June 20, 2013 at the State Department in Washington.

The UNHCR estimates that "in the first six months there will be more refugees coming out of Syria than all the refugees that came from all parts of the world into neighboring countries in the whole of 2012."

While praising the resilience of refugees and the existing levels of global support for UNHCR programs, Deputy UN High Commissioner for Refugees Alex Aleinikoff told AFP that more nations needed to step up.

"We have more displaced people in the world now than at any time over the this current generation," he said, highlighting the families and children forced to flee their homes for strange new lands.

"What's the future for these kids? What did they see before they fled? What will it be like for them in this new country? How will it affect them for the rest of their lives?" he asked.

"In many places we have new emergencies, and on top of that we've new refugee crises that have begun over the last few years, and we've many refugee crises that haven't been resolved."

US Secretary of State John Kerry agreed "the challenges that we're here to talk about today are monumental, they are humbling."

But he said there was a "global, moral responsibility that we have to try to deal with people who face some of the toughest circumstances on earth."

"Today, I announced that we are nearly doubling our contributions this year to the UNHCR. We are giving to the High Commission on Refugees a $415 million commitment that brings our 2013 total to $890 million."

The sum makes the United States the largest single contributor to the UNHCR, Kerry added.

Some $289.3 million of the funds going to the UNHCR are earmarked for Syrian refugees and had been previously unveiled by the US administration.

The United States has promised a total of some $815 million in humanitarian aid to the Syrian refugees, funds disbursed mainly through UN agencies to help provide water, food and shelter.

US Assistant Secretary for Refugees Anne Richard told AFP that one of the most moving experiences she had witnessed since taking up her post a year ago was seeing Syrian refugees flood across the border into Jordan at night.

"These were families. They were carrying what they could take in suitcases, but parents also had small children in their hands who looked completely out of their element and confused and fearful, little old folks who had to be helped across the border," she said.

Syria's neighbors are "tremendously generous," Richard said, "but we need more countries to donate."

She did not exclude the idea that the United States could take in some of the most vulnerable Syrians as part of the 70,000 refugees from around the world who will find new homes in the country this year.

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