(MENAFN - Jordan Times) Fresh fighting in southern Syria has triggered a mass refugee exodus into Jordan, relief officials say, prompting authorities to enact an emergency response plan to confront an emerging humanitarian crisis.
Violence in southern Syria has led to refugees crossing into Jordan in "record numbers", including 973 on Monday evening, the largest single number of daily arrivals since the beginning of the 18-month crisis, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
"We have witnessed new arrivals rise from the hundreds into the thousands," said Andrew Harper, UNHCR representative in Jordan.
"The challenge is now not only how do we meet the needs of these 1,000 people, but what do we do tomorrow when the next 1,000 cross through?" Harper told The Jordan Times on Tuesday.
According to the UN, the vast majority of new arrivals - over 70 per cent - originate from the restive southern province of Daraa, which has been the epicentre of clashes between rebels and government forces over the past week.
Syrian activists claim that thousands of more Daraa residents are camped out in the border region waiting for a break in an ongoing Syrian military blockade to enter the Kingdom.
"As soon as the Free Syrian Army secures the path, many more will come," predicted Abu Ahmed, a member of the Local Coordination Committees residing in Jordan.
In response to the sudden wave of refugees, local authorities have activated an "emergency response plan", a campaign spearheaded by the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organisation to mobilise resources, staff and basic medical supplies to the border region, according to the UN.
Under one of the measures outlined in the strategy, Jordanian authorities may open makeshift overflow camps in the border region to receive and house new arrivals, according to a source familiar with the strategy.
According to security officials, this week's massive influx has led to a "housing disaster" at so-called transit facilities - guarded housing complexes where new arrivals undergo security background checks - forcing relief agencies to house recent arrivals in makeshift plastic "triage tents" and ration scarce resources.
In light of the mass influx, Jordanian and UN officials are accelerating efforts to open the country's first Syrian refugee camp, Harper said, with officials hoping to break ground on the facility, to be erected in the border region, in the next few weeks.
"A refugee camp is often the least desirable option, but in this case it may be the only option," Harper said.
As a short-term solution, authorities are currently exploring transforming existing public facilities and land donated by private citizens in the northern region into makeshift housing complexes, according to the UN.
The recent mass exodus comes amid a funding shortfall, with the UNHCR reporting that it has secured 10 per cent of the 40 million earmarked for Jordan as part of an 84 million regional response fund launched last month to support host countries.
In light of the growing humanitarian crisis, the UN upped its aid appeal to 192 million, some 84 million of which will be allocated to help Jordan meet the needs of some 50,000 vulnerable Syrians, a number the UNHCR expects to reach 70,000 by the year's end.
UN officials warn that even should donor institutions and countries follow through on their aid pledges, local authorities and relief agencies face the challenge of meeting the "immediate needs" of new arrivals.
"These people need food, blankets and medical attention, and at the end of the day these things cost money," Harper said.
The recent flood of Syrian refugees comes despite a new border policy aiming to limit the entry of single Syrian males out of fears of increased attempts by regime loyalists and revolutionaries to infiltrate the growing refugee community.
Despite the concerns, Jordan continues to follow an open border policy, providing refuge and access to public health and educational services to the some 140,000 Syrians who have fled to the country.