Amnesty urges Home Secretary to undertake compassion overhaul of refugee response

Amnesty International is urging Home Secretary Amber Rudd to rethink key aspects of the UK’s refugee response, which is having a “disastrous” impact on refugees in the UK and abroad, ahead of her speech at the Conservative Party Conference tomorrow.

The UK’s refusal to share responsibility for hosting refugees and to provide safe and legal routes to safety is setting a terrible example that other countries are increasingly following. The result is that more and more people fleeing violence and persecution are forced into the hands of smugglers and into taking increasingly dangerous journeys to safety, Amnesty said.

The call comes as Amnesty publishes a comprehensive assessment of the global refugee crisis that documents the precarious situation faced by many of the world’s 21 million refugees. It shows how of the 193 countries in the world, the majority of the wealthiest have shown a near absence of leadership and responsibility while a global refugee crisis continues to escalate. This has left just 10 countries – each bordering conflict zones and accounting for less than 2.5% of world GDP – to take in in 56% of the global refugee population. The UK hosts less than one per cent of the world’s refugees.

Some of those nations are now turning their backs on their refugee populations – including by sending people back to countries where there are active armed conflicts - citing the failure of the international community to help. Many refugees in Greece, Iraq, on the Pacific island of Nauru or at the border of Syria and Jordan are in dire need of a home, while others in Kenya and Pakistan are facing growing harassment from governments.

Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty UK, said:

“The new Home Secretary must reassess the disastrous impact the UK’s refusal to share responsibility for refugees is having both domestically and internationally. The whole system needs a compassion overhaul.

“It’s disgraceful that the UK hosts less than one percent of the world’s refugees when our size and prosperity mean we should do so much more.

“Desperate families are forced into the hands of traffickers precisely because countries like ours have pulled up the drawbridge. Smaller, poorer neighbouring countries are left to try and cope, and when they can’t more people are forced to try to move on, seeking a basic level of safety.

“Amber Rudd should start by allowing refugees with relatives already in the UK to be reunited with each other here. Women, men and children are sleeping in tents in the mud across the world, desperate for any opportunity to join parents, siblings and other family in the UK.”

Countries neighbouring conflicts left to shoulder vast majority of world’s refugees

Amnesty’s new report says that unequal sharing of responsibility is exacerbating the global refugee crisis and the many problems faced by refugees. It calls on all countries to accept a fair proportion of the world’s refugees, based on objective criteria that reflect their capacity to host refugees.

The report says a basic common-sense system for assessing countries’ capacity to host refugees, based on criteria like wealth, population and unemployment, would make it clear which countries are failing to do their fair share.

It highlights the stark contrast in the number of refugees from Syria taken in by its neighbours and by other countries with similar populations. For example, the UK has taken in fewer than 8000 Syrians since 2011, while Jordan – with a population almost 10 times smaller than the UK and just 1.2% of its GDP – hosts more than 655,000 refugees from Syria. Yet Jordan has also been hosting Palestinian refugees for decades – now numbering more than 2 million. Similar imbalances in the international response to other refugee crises are highlighted, such as Afghanistan and Somalia.

  • Lebanon, with a population of 4.5 million, a land mass of 10,000km2 and a GDP per capita of US$10,000, hosts over 1.1 million refugees from Syria, while New Zealand with the same population but a land mass of 268,000km2 and a GDP per capita of US$42,000 has only taken in 250 refugees from Syria to date. 
  • Ireland, with a population of 4.6m, a land mass seven times bigger than Lebanon and an economy five times larger, has so far only welcomed 758 refugees from Syria.

More governments must show leadership

The report cites Canada as an example of how, with leadership and vision, states can resettle large numbers of refugees in a timely manner.

Canada has resettled nearly 30,000 Syrian refugees since November 2015. Slightly more than half were sponsored by the Canadian government, with close to 11,000 others arriving through private sponsorship arrangements. As of late August 2016, an additional 18,000 Syrians’ applications were being processed – mainly in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

Today only around 30 countries run some kind of refugee resettlement programme, and the number of places offered annually falls far short of the needs identified by the UN. If this increased to 60 or 90, it would make a significant impact on the crisis, the report said.

To encourage more countries to take effective action, Amnesty International is calling for a new mechanism for resettling vulnerable refugees and a new global transfer mechanism for acute situations like the Syrian conflict, so that neighbouring countries would no longer be overwhelmed when large numbers of people flee for their lives.

The figures in the report are based on UNHCR and UNRWA figures, as well as government and NGO figures where relevant.

View latest press releases