GENEVA (AP) — The United Nations refugee agency and other aid groups are appealing for almost $490 million to help Syrians who have fled the conflict in their country.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says some 294,000 Syrians have crossed into neighboring Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey since fighting began 18 months ago.

That is a seven-fold increase since March, which marked a year since the start of the uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime.

The agency’s coordinator for Syria, Panos Moumtzis, told reporters in Geneva on Thursday that 2,000 to 3,000 Syrians are crossing into neighboring countries each day.

Humanitarian groups previously estimated that there would be 100,000 refugees by the end of 2012 but are now planning to help up to 710,000 people by year-end.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.