An international failure: The Syrian refugee crisis
"Syria has become the great tragedy of this century – a disgraceful humanitarian calamity with suffering and displacement unparalleled in recent history.” António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on Syria, 3 September 2013.1
Introduction In the space of 12 months, 1.8 million people fled the armed conflict in Syria. By September 2013 the terrible milestone of two million refugees had been reached as men, women and children continued to pour out of the country. As of 9 December, the number stood at over 2.3 million registered refugees,2 52 per cent of whom are children.3 In addition, at least 4.25 million people are displaced inside the country.4 In total, more than 6.5 million people have been forced to leave their homes in Syria, nearly a third of the country’s population.5 In July 2013, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that “We have not seen a refugee outflow escalate at such a frightening rate since the Rwandan genocide almost 20 years ago”.6
Five countries neighbouring Syria - Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt - host 97% of the refugees.7 In Jordan and Lebanon refugees from Syria have added 9 per cent and 19 per cent to the countries’ populations, respectively.8
Despite the enormous scale of the refugee crisis, the international community has failed miserably to support refugees from Syria or the main countries of refuge. The UN humanitarian appeal for refugees from Syria in the region – which represents 68% of the Syria humanitarian appeal, the largest such appeal in UN history9 - has remained less than 50% funded for most of 2013. At the time of publishing it was only 64% funded.10
The provision of resettlement and humanitarian admission places11 – one of the principal means by which the international community can show solidarity with countries hosting large number of refugees and provide urgent safety and protection measures for the most vulnerable refugees - remains extremely limited. UNHCR has set a goal of securing 30,000 places for Syrian refugees on resettlement, humanitarian admission, or other forms of admission from 2013 to the end of 2014.12 While UNHCR continues to receive pledges from countries in order to meet this goal, only 15,244 places for temporary or permanent relocation of refugees from Syria have been pledged so far.13 These pledges were made by fourteen countries in Europe (10 European Union (EU) countries and four non-EU countries), Australia and Canada.14 The US - which has the largest annual resettlement programme of any county by a wide margin – may offer additional places.15
Out of the 15,244 places offered by Europe, Australia and Canada, the EU, whose nearest capital is only 200 miles from Damascus,16 has pledged a total of 12,340. 17 This represents just 0.54 per cent of the total number of refugees from Syria. It is roughly the number of refugees registered in Lebanon in the last five days of November.18
Among the places offered by EU countries, the vast majority - 10,000 places - were offered by Germany, in the form of a humanitarian admission programme. Excluding Germany, the remaining 27 EU countries have pledged a mere 2,340 places. Eighteen EU Member States, including the UK and Italy, have not made any resettlement or humanitarian admission pledges.
It is not just the EU that is failing to make resettlement places available. Countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have not offered any resettlement or humanitarian admission places to refugees from Syria.
Some of the governments that have been the most prominent supporters of military action in Syria have also been the least forthcoming when it comes to making resettlement places available to refugees from Syria. The UK, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have not offered to take any refugees from Syria. France offered to take 500 refugees, or 0.02% of those in the main host countries.
Amnesty International is calling on the international community to ensure there is adequate and sustained funding for humanitarian appeals for Syria, and to support the main host countries to enable them to keep their borders open and provide adequate protection and assistance to refugees.
Amnesty International is also calling for an urgent and significant increase in the number of places available for resettlement and humanitarian admission to refugees from Syria, over and above existing resettlement quotas.
Furthermore, the organization calls on all states to keep their borders open to those fleeing the conflict in Syria – as well as to other refugees – and to ensure that those trying to reach their borders are treated with dignity.