More than 30 international organizations are calling on governments meeting in Geneva tomorrow to commit to offering sanctuary to at least 5 per cent of the most vulnerable refugees from Syria currently in neighbouring countries – 180,000 people – by the end of 2015.
The governments convened by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will be making pledges to resettle or provide other forms of humanitarian admission to Syrian refugees. Up to 3.59 million people are projected to have fled the conflict into countries neighbouring Syria by the end of this year. To date the international community has pledged to resettle less than 2 per cent of this number over an unclear timeframe.
Syria’s neighbouring countries have shown incredible generosity over the last three and a half years, but the strain of the crisis is weighing heavily on infrastructure and public services. Turkey and Lebanon each host more than 1 million registered refugees. One in every four residents in Lebanon is a refugee from Syria. Jordan hosts more than 618,000 and Iraq hosts 225,000 (on top of millions of internally displaced Iraqis). With diminishing resources, refugees and host communities are paying the price, as well as those still trying to flee the conflict in Syria as neighbouring countries restrict and effectively close their borders.
“The situation for the most vulnerable refugees from Syria is becoming increasingly desperate. Some – including sick children, who without treatment, could die – are simply unable to survive in the region. Providing humanitarian aid alone is no longer an option: it’s time for wealthy governments to step up and extend a lifeline to 5 per cent of the refugee population by the end of 2015,” said Justin Forsyth, CEO of Save the Children.
“This is one of the worst refugee crises since World War II, displacing millions of civilians, mostly women and children,” said Mark Goldring, Executive Director of Oxfam GB. “We’re counting on governments in Geneva to move quickly to demonstrate the kind of international solidarity that is desperately needed to transform the lives of the most vulnerable refugees.”
While 5 per cent is only a small fraction of the total number of refugees, it would mean the hope of a better future and safety for at least 180,000 people by the end of next year, including survivors of torture, those with significant medical needs, children and women at risk – as identified by the UN refugee agency. Accepting the most vulnerable cases for resettlement or humanitarian admission also relieves Syria’s neighbouring countries from the short term costs of treating, supporting or protecting them.
“With the collapse in the international solidarity, Syria’s neighbours are now increasing their border restrictions. Desperate Syrian civilians are unable to escape the war. Wealthy countries need to scale up their resettlement pledges and at the same time increase the support to the region so that borders are kept open,” said Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland.
“Just because we happen to share no border with Syria, this does not free any of us from responsibility”.
The coalition of NGOs are also calling on states that have not traditionally participated in refugee resettlement, such as countries in the Gulf and Latin America, to join other states by pledging resettlement and humanitarian admission places.
“Given the magnitude of the refugee crisis, it is time that the wider international community significantly stepped up its efforts to share responsibility with Syria’s neighbours in the region. We need to see far greater pledges from countries that have so far committed to take negligibly small numbers or none at all,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
Beyond this, governments can also do much more through innovative ways to help refugees from Syria in 2015, such as through making available work permits and university places, while offering them full protections in line with the 1951 Refugee Convention.