Syria's refugees: international effort needed

An Amnesty International report has highlighted the huge gap between the Syrian refugee crisis and the global response. Fortress Europe needs to discover an ethos of hospitality

Sherif Elsayed-Ali
14 December 2013
Za'atri refugee camp, Syria

Bottled-up humanity: an aerial view of the Za’atri camp for the displaced in Syria. Flickr: Sharnoff’s Global Views. Some rights reserved

More than 2.3 million people have fled the conflict in Syria. It has created the biggest refugee crisis of a generation and it’s getting worse.

Five neighbouring countries—who between them have taken more than 96 per cent of refugees—can no longer cope with the influx. Lebanon’s population has increased by 19 per cent in two years, Jordan’s by 9 per cent. It is time for the wider international community to help tackle the refugee crisis.

Restarting lives

There are three possible ways for Syrian refugees to restart their lives. First, they can integrate in the main host countries. But the chances of this diminish with every new refugee. The current rate of 5,000 arrivals per day would test the resources of any country—let alone ones as small as Lebanon and Jordan.

The second solution is be for people to return home. In the short-term, this is inconceivable. Even if the conflict in Syria were to end tomorrow, it would take years to rebuild the homes, roads and infrastructure that have been destroyed.

Germany has promised to resettle 10,000 people but the remaining 27 EU member states have offered to take a mere 2,340 Syrian refugees among them.

The third solution is resettlement—in which countries share the responsibility of dealing with the crisis. Through resettlement or humanitarian admission programmes other countries—in Europe, the Gulf and elsewhere—could offer places for the most vulnerable refugees. This would help them relocate, get permanent or temporary residencies and restart their lives.

Resettlement is only ever practical for a small proportion of refugees. Many people may prefer to stay in neighbouring countries—somewhere they know the language and are familiar with the culture. But for some—those who are disabled, have chronic illnesses, have been victims of torture, have been injured in the conflict or are at risk because they are part of a minority group—the only practical solution is to be resettled.

Unprecedented crisis

The scale of this crisis is unprecedented in recent history. In addition to the refugees, more than four million Syrians have been forced from their homes but are inside the country and millions more need humanitarian assistance. Yet globally only 15,000 places for resettlement or humanitarian admission have been pledged.

Germany has promised to resettle 10,000 people but the remaining 27 EU member states have offered to take a mere 2,340 Syrian refugees among them. France has offered 500 places, Spain just 30. Eighteen EU member states, including the UK and Italy, have offered none at all.

Amnesty International is calling on the European Union, as well as the Gulf Co-operation Council and others, to increase significantly the number of places available to refugees from Syria. Countries such as the UK and Kuwait have given substantial sums to the humanitarian effort but this is not sufficient. There is a limit to what money can achieve in this situation.

Germany is currently leading the way but other countries like the UK, France and the GCC countries should follow this lead and offer places to more refugees.

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