Many Syrians who have escaped their country are now desperate to escape from UN-run refugee camps, where women are not safe and teenage boys are recruited as soldiers to fight in the conflict, according to a UN report.

The July report, a self-evaluation of the refugee agency UNHCR's work in Syria entitled From slow boil to breaking point, admits the UN could have done much better and "a far more substantial and coherent strategy is needed".

Organised crime networks are operating in the biggest refugee camp, Zaatari in Jordan, which is home to 130,000, it said. The camp is "lawless is many ways", with resources that are "constantly stolen or vandalised".

Refugees can live outside the camp if they are "sponsored" by a Jordanian citizen, but many refugees are paying up to $500 to middlemen to get out, the report said.

Critically overcrowded

In the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, Domiz camp is critically overcrowded and living standards are "unacceptable" in many parts of the camp.

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"There is currently no agreed strategy in place to deal with the existing refugee population in Northern Iraq or any future influxes into the territory," the report said, adding that UNHCR and NGOs held "directly opposing views" about work to help refugees living outside the camps.

Although UNHCR is planning to crack down on crime in Zaatari, partly by strengthening the role of the Jordanian police, "opposition to the plan, possibly of a violent nature, can be anticipated," the report said.

Increasingly that means returning to Syria, the report said, adding that returnees needed to be closely monitored to be sure they were not going back against their will.

UNHCR is trying to cope with a massive humanitarian crisis, as 1.9 million Syrians have sought refuge abroad, mainly in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

Source: Agencies