The world’s pitiful response to Syria’s refugee crisis

World leaders are failing to offer protection to Syria’s most vulnerable refugees with catastrophic consequences, Amnesty International has warned in a new briefing ahead of a UN pledging conference in Geneva on 9 December.

Left Out in the Cold: Syrian refugees abandoned by the international community highlights the pitiful numbers of resettlement places offered by the international community. Around 3.8 million refugees from are being hosted in five main countries within the region: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. Only 1.7 per cent of this number have been offered sanctuary by the rest of the world since the crisis began more than three years ago. 

The Gulf states– which include some of the world’s wealthiest countries – have not offered to take a single refugee from Syria so far. Russia and China have similarly failed to pledge a single resettlement place. Excluding Germany, the rest of the European Union (EU) has pledged to resettle a paltry 0.17 per cent of refugees in the main host countries.

“The shortfall in the number of resettlement places for refugees offered by the international community is truly shocking. Nearly 380,000 people have been identified as in need of resettlement by the UN refugee agency, yet just a tiny fraction of these people have been offered sanctuary abroad,” said Sherif Elsayed-Ali, Amnesty International’s Head of Refugee and Migrants’ Rights. 

“The World Food Programme announcement earlier this week that is has been forced to suspend food aid to 1.7 million refugees due to a funding crisis underscores the abysmal response of the international community.

“The complete absence of resettlement pledges from the Gulf is particularly shameful. Linguistic and religious ties should place the Gulf states at the forefront of those offering safe shelter to refugees fleeing persecution and war crimes in Syria.”

In Lebanon, a country with a precarious economy and mounting debt, the influx of refugees from Syria has increased the country’s population by 26 per cent. The number of refugees hosted there is 715 times the total of the number of Syrians who sought asylum in the EU in the last three years and the resettlement places offered by the EU.

The lack of international support has had disastrous consequences with the five main host countries, who are currently hosting at least 95 per cent of Syria’s refugees, seriously struggling to cope. Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have imposed severe restrictions on the entry of refugees in recent months leaving many trapped in Syria at serious risk of abuses by government forces or at the hands of the group that calls itself the Islamic State (IS) and other armed groups.  

Amnesty International is calling for at least five per cent of Syria’s refugees to be resettled by the end of 2015 with a further five per cent resettled by 2016. This would ensure that all those currently identified as in need of resettlement by UNHCR would be given places. Refugees in need of resettlement include survivors of torture, unaccompanied children and people with serious medical conditions. 

“Next week’s pledging conference must be used to turn the tide around. It is time for world governments to take the courageous steps needed to share the responsibility for this crisis and help avert further suffering,” said Sherif Elsayed-Ali. 

“If a tiny country with a weak economy and huge debt like Lebanon can accommodate an increase of a quarter of its population others can certainly be doing more to help.”

While some of the world’s wealthier countries including the USA, the UK and Kuwait have made generous contributions to the UN humanitarian response this alone is not enough. 

“Countries cannot ease their consciences with cash pay-outs then simply wash their hands of the matter,” said Sherif Elsayed-Ali. 

“With no end in sight to the conflict in Syria and little prospect of refugees being able to return home in the near future, resettlement is essential to help the most vulnerable and ease the burden on host countries in the region.”

Even out of the international resettlement pledges already made, just a fraction have been fulfilled so far. As of August 2014, only 7,000 refugees referred by UNHCR for resettlement had left for new homes in their destination countries.

“The apathy we have witnessed from some of the world’s wealthiest countries has been exacerbated by scare-mongering over rising immigration levels across Europe. Those with the economic means to do so must play a greater role,” said Sherif Elsayed-Ali.

In reality the total number of Syrians who have reached and applied for asylum in the EU in the past three years was approximately 150,000. This is roughly the same as the number of people who flooded into Turkey in the space of just one week in September 2015 in fleeing the IS advance on the Syrian town of Kobani. 


Within the EU, Sweden and Germany are hosting the largest number of Syrian asylum-seekers. Together, the two countries have received 96,500 new Syrian asylum applications in the last three years, representing 64% of all such applications in the block.

In addition, Germany’s resettlement commitments amount to nearly half of the global total. Excluding Germany, the five largest countries in the EU (the UK, France, Italy, Spain and Poland) have pledged just 2,000 places between them constituting just 0.001per cent of their combined populations.