UK one of ten EU countries which has failed to resettle vulnerable Syrian refugees
European leaders should hang their heads in shame over the pitifully low numbers of refugees from Syria they are prepared to resettle, said Amnesty International today (13 December).
In a new 18-page briefing - An international failure: The Syrian refugee crisis - Amnesty details how European Union countries have only offered to open their doors to around 12,000 of the most vulnerable refugees from Syria, or just 0.5% of the 2.3 million people who have fled the country.
The closest European capital - Nicosia - lies a mere 200 miles from Damascus. Yet collectively, EU member states have pledged to resettle just a very small proportion of Syria’s most vulnerable refugees. The bulk of Syria’s refugees - 97% - have fled to five neighbouring countries - Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. The arrival of refugees in Lebanon has increased the country’s population by nearly 20%. As winter approaches, conditions in neighbouring countries are deteriorating rapidly. Meanwhile, tens of thousands have reached Europe trying to claim asylum, having risked life and limb in arduous journeys, on boats or across land.
Amnesty’s briefing breaks down the figures over the EU’s response:
• Only ten EU member states have offered resettlement or humanitarian admission places to refugees from Syria.
• Germany is by far the most generous - having pledged to take 10,000 refugees or 80% of total EU pledges.
• Excluding Germany, the remaining 27 EU countries have offered to take a mere 2,340 refugees from Syria.
• The UK is one of 18 EU countries to have offered no places at all.
• France has offered just 500 places or 0.02% of the total number who have fled Syria.
• Spain has agreed to take just 30 or 0.001% of refugees from Syria.
Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty said:
“Across the board European leaders should hang their heads in shame.
“The number of those it’s prepared to resettle is truly pitiful.
“The EU has miserably failed to play its part in providing a safe haven to the refugees who have lost all but their lives.
“The EU must open its borders, provide safe passage, and halt these deplorable human rights violations.”
Just 55,000 refugees from Syria (2.4% of the total number of people who have fled the country) have managed to reach an EU country and claim asylum. In the two years to the end of October 2013, Sweden had received 20,490 new Syrian asylum applications and Germany 16,100 such applications. Less than 1,000 people have claimed asylum in each of Greece, Italy and Cyprus. Many are faced with violent “push-backs” by police and coastguards, or detained for weeks in deplorable conditions. Amnesty is calling on EU member states to:
• Significantly increase the number of resettlement and humanitarian admission places for refugees from Syria;
• Strengthen search and rescue capacity in the Mediterranean to identify boats in distress and assist those on board;
• Ensure that those rescued are treated with dignity and have access to asylum procedures;
• Ensure that unlawful “push-back” operations are ended;
• Provide legal safe passage for Syrian asylum-seekers wishing to travel to EU countries.
Meanwhile, the EU, its member states and the international community should continue to provide support to countries hosting the largest numbers of refugees, particularly Jordan and Lebanon.
The journey to Italy by sea
More than 10,000 refugees from Syria are reported to have arrived along Italy’s coast in the first ten months of this year. In October it is estimated that as many as 650 refugees and migrants died when three boats sank attempting to reach Europe from North Africa. Amnesty’s briefing gives first-hand accounts of those who have attempted to reach Europe by sea:
Awad, a 17-year-old boy from Damascus, described how he managed to escape through a window of a sinking boat and swim to the surface. There were reportedly 400 people on board. He saw people clinging to dead bodies and boat wreckage to stay afloat, while others fought over life jackets. Awad lost his mother as well as other family members: “I have no idea where my family are … I used to have ambition but now I have lost my mother, I don't want anything, I just want stability, everything else is second to that.”
Another boy from Syria lost both his father and nine-year-old brother in the accident: “My experience didn’t just destroy my dreams; it destroyed my family’s dreams. I am destroyed completely.”
Greece and Bulgaria
In two of the main gateways to the EU - Greece and Bulgaria - refugees from Syria have faced deplorable treatment, including life-threatening push-back operations along the Greek coast, and detention for weeks in poor conditions in Bulgaria. Refugees have told Amnesty how Greek police or coastguards - wielding guns and wearing full face hoods - have ill-treated them, stripped them of their belongings and eventually pushed them back to Turkey.
A 32-year-old man from Syria described how he and his mother were confronted by the Greek coastguard near the island of Samos in October. They were part of a group of 35 people including women and young children pushed back to Turkey: “They put all the men lying on the boat; they stepped on us and hit us with their weapons for three hours. Then at around 10 in the morning, after removing the motor, they put us back to our plastic boat and drove us back to the Turkish waters and left us in the middle of the sea.’’
The number of unlawful push-back operations from Greece is not known; however, Amnesty believes hundreds have been affected. In the last two years the European Commission has provided £192 million to bolster border controls. In comparison, for the same time period, just £10 million was allocated to Greece under the European Refugee Fund, which supports efforts in receiving refugees.
Meanwhile, in Bulgaria an estimated 5,000 refugees from Syria arrived between January and November this year. The majority are housed in emergency centres, the largest of which is in the town of Harmanli. It is effectively a closed detention centre. Amnesty found refugees living in squalid conditions in containers, a dilapidated building and in tents. There was a lack of adequate sanitary facilities with limited access to food, bedding or medicine. A large number of people were in need of medical care, including some injured in conflict, individuals suffering chronic diseases and those with mental health problems. Some of the refugees in Harmanli told Amnesty that they had been detained for over a month.
Since July Amnesty has conducted field research into the situations of refugees in, among other countries, Bulgaria, Egypt, Greece, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya and Turkey.