Syria’s war along with the COVID-19 virus has pushed hundreds of thousands of refugees deeper into need, the World Food Program said Tuesday.

“Most have fled to neighboring Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt and these five countries alone host more than 5.5 million Syrians, the biggest refugee group in the world,” Elisabeth Byrs, WFP Geneva spokeswoman, said at a UN briefing in Geneva.

She said the resulting economic fallout has aggravated the impact of the novel coronavirus on refugees.

“The COVID-19 and the consequent economic downturn has pushed hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in the region deeper into need,” she said, noting that even before the pandemic most refugee families were living in extreme poverty.

The number of vulnerable refugees who lack the essential resources to survive in exile has dramatically surged as a result of the public health emergency.

Byrs said that loss of income has pushed refugee families to the edge and that many are unable to pay their rents and are forced to take on additional debt, cut down on food and medication,

WFP said it is providing assistance to 1.8 million refugees and communities hosting them, of whom 1.2 million of them are Syrian refugees.

The WFP’s assistance is mostly through cash transfer, and e-food cards or vouchers, which it said is the most extensive humanitarian food voucher program in the world.

On June 21, the UN Refugee Agency said that Turkey continues to host the largest number of refugees worldwide, as the number of people forcibly displaced across the world due to conflict, violence, and persecution hit record levels.

“Turkey currently hosts some 3.6 million registered Syrian refugees along with close to 330,000 persons of concern from other nationalities.”

WFP said that refugees are especially vulnerable to coronavirus and other diseases due to high geographical mobility, instability, living in overcrowded conditions, insufficient hygiene and sanitation, and lack of access to decent healthcare.

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