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Fleeing civil war, Syrian refugees slide into poverty, UN report says

UNITED NATIONS -- Syrian refugees who fled to Jordan during the civil war are "sliding into abject poverty" as war rages on in their country, according to a UN report on their plight.

The report, "Living in the Shadows," was released Wednesday by the UN high commissioner for refugees as the complex and expanding war in Syria is on the brink of beginning its fifth year -- with no diplomatic solution in sight.

"I am here to express my solidarity with Syrian refugees, as the impact of snowstorm Huda is still tangible and posing an even greater strain on their already dire living conditions," said António Guterres, the UN's high commissioner for refugees, who is in Jordan visiting the Amman and Za'atari refugee camps.

The report documents that as much as two-thirds of the refugees in Jordan subsist on incomes that fall below the national poverty line, with one in six refugee households living in abject poverty, defined as less than $40 per person per month. A considerable portion of the refugees' income comes from the UNHCR's cash assistance plan.

Farhan Haq, a spokesman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, said Wednesday that the UN already has solicited funds through an emergency appeal for Syrian refugees, but Guterres said that the international community has to provide more to prevent the crisis from deteriorating further. So far, $2 billion of the $3.7 billion requested in the appeal have been received.

Forty six percent of refugees were living under dire conditions that officials described as "bad or uninhabitable." Researchers reported that nearly half of the households lacked heating and that 25 percent had spotty electricity. Fully 20 percent did not have a working toilet.

Guterres said "unless the international community increases its support to refugees, families will opt for ever more drastic coping strategies," adding "more children will drop out of school to work and more women will be at risk of exploitation."

The humanitarian crisis worsens as the military campaigns and devastation in Syria itself accelerates. The UN now says that at least 191,000 people have been killed in the conflict, which began in March 2011 in the wake of the Arab Spring.

Syria's conflict has since drawn thousands of foreign fighters bent on overthrowing Syrian President Bashar Assad from organizations considered terrorists, such as al-Nusra Front, which is an al-Qaida partner, and Islamic State.

More moderate rebel groups backed by the United States and some European powers have failed to achieve a diplomatic solution despite two conferences convened by the United Nations in Geneva. Experts have said that gridlock at the UN Security Council, where Russia and the United States have been at loggerheads over who would lead Syria in its postwar days, has paralyzed the world body and allowed the war to continue unabated.

Late last year, UN envoy Staffan de Mistura proposed a limited cease-fire to begin in Aleppo, to create a corridor for humanitarian assistance, but the measure has not yet gained traction among diplomats. De Mistura is poised to brief the Security Council later this month even as Russia prepares to host a conference in Moscow on the Syrian crisis.

De Mistura, who Farhan said will travel to Damascus later this month, met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Geneva on Wednesday.

"The United States is particularly concerned about the continued catastrophe that is unfolding in Syria where nearly three-quarters of the entire country are displaced people today," Kerry said.

De Mistura said "The Syrian people are just saying enough. And we should not let them down."

The report, conducted with UNHCR's partner, International Relief and Development, is based on interviews and observations from visits with as many as 150,000 refugees between January and June 2014. Jordan has 620,000 registered Syrian refugees. The UN estimates there are 3.7 million registered refugees in several countries.

"The ability of Syrian refugees in Jordan to manage their lives is becoming increasingly perilous," said Andrew Harper a UNHCR representative based in Jordan. "As the conflict drags on and the most vulnerable refugees seek deeper into despair it is now the time for the international community to redouble its efforts to protect those in need. Without this support refugees have limited options on how to survive."

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