05/14/2013 11:11 EDT | Updated 07/14/2013 05:12 EDT

Growing crisis in Syria has aid agencies pleading for help

OTTAWA - A coalition of aid groups launched a public campaign Tuesday to raise money for Syrian refugees, saying demand for assistance far outpaces global government donations.

The Humanitarian Coalition said they believe Canadians want to support the estimated 6.8 million people affected by the ongoing civil war in Syria, but don't know how.

The Syrian-Canadian community has exhausted its resources to assist family members and churches and unions have tried to help as well, said Robert Fox, executive director for Oxfam Canada.

"We've also seen that many Canadians have almost been paralyzed in their response as they've been watching this political and conflict situation arise, in part because they don't know who to trust, they don't know what's going on, they don't know how to help," Fox said.

"Today's launch of this appeal by the humanitarian coalition is the response they've been waiting for."

The coalition — made up of CARE Canada, Oxfam Canada, Plan Canada and Save the Children — says its agencies are actively working in refugee camps scattered around the region.

An estimated 7,000 people flee Syria every day, most headed for refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Kurdistan.

Both Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney toured such camps in recent weeks.

Kenney has been repeatedly urged to arrange an immigration program to bring Syrian refugees to Canada, but he says the UN is not currently asking countries to get involved in resettlement.

The Canadian government has contributed more than $48 million in humanitarian assistance since last year.

The coalition says Canada is meeting its international obligations, but many other countries aren't.

The United Nations has asked for just over $1 billion in aid, but as of late April had received only 55 per cent of that, according to figures on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees website.

The UN is expected to make another appeal in the coming weeks, as concerns mount and the ranks of the refugees swell.

"As this crisis continues to grow, the overall amount requested continues to grow," said Kevin McCort, president of CARE Canada.

"We're really giving people a heads-up, essentially, that the demands are not going away, the requests for funding are going to increase and we encourage government to keep its mind open and look for resources."

In the past, the Canadian government matched funds raised by aid groups for certain causes, but that option does not appear to be on the table when it comes to Syrian aid.

International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino called on other governments to meet their pledges.

"Canada is a leading donor and we will continue to explore all timely options to help the people affected by the illegitimate and murderous Assad regime," Fantino said in a statement.