Syria Crisis: UNHCR urges European Union states to honour their asylum system principles

News Stories, 16 October 2012

© UNHCR/S.Malkawi
A Syrian mother and her son, refugees in Lebanon.

GENEVA, October 16 (UNHCR) With a small but growing number of Syrian asylum-seekers arriving in Europe, the UN refugee agency on Tuesday reiterated how important it was for European Union (EU) countries to adhere to the principles of their Common European Asylum System.

"These include ensuring access to territory, access to asylum procedures, harmonized approaches to the adjudication of asylum claims and mutual support between member states," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said in Geneva. "There is an opportunity for the EU to put its commitment to solidarity into practice," he added.

European Union countries, together with Norway and Switzerland, received 16,474 asylum applications from Syrians between January 2011 and August 2012, according to European Commission figures. Germany received 5,515, Sweden had 2,506, followed by Switzerland (1,405), Austria (972), the United Kingdom (912), Denmark (908) and Belgium (796). The numbers in other member states were considerably lower.

While most EU member states are processing claims and granting protection to Syrians, approaches to interpreting protection criteria and the type of status and entitlements granted vary considerably. "In Greece, for example, the asylum-system fails to meet the protection needs of many refugees," Edwards noted.

In some countries on the eastern border of the EU, rejection rates are more than 50 per cent. In addition, some countries are more likely to give Syrians a tolerated stay rather than actual protection. "There is therefore a risk that people in need of protection will be denied the rights to which they are entitled under EU or international law and will be compelled to move on, usually to other EU states," the UNHCR spokesman said.

Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey continue to host the overwhelming majority of refugees now numbering more than 340,000 Syrians who have either formally registered as refugees or are being assisted. Arrivals of asylum-seekers from Syria in the EU have been relatively small, with less than 20,000 Syrian asylum claims filed in the past 18 months.

"With the crisis continuing, contingency planning at national level for new arrivals should take place," Edwards said. "At EU level, there must also be readiness to consider applying the Temporary Protection Directive and other appropriate responses, if the conditions demand it. As always, it is important that the right to seek asylum is upheld at all times," he added.

The European Union and its member states are among the largest contributors to the Syria Regional Response Plan, which represents the combined planning of 52 UN agencies and NGOs who are supporting Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. This plan was recently updated with an appeal figure of US$487.9 million. It is currently 29 per cent funded.

The EU has provided more than 8 million euros to the regional response plan to date, and is considering further contributions. Individual EU member states have also offered welcome financial support. "However, further funding is and will be required to meet the pressing humanitarian needs of displaced people," Edwards stressed.

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2008 Nansen Refugee Award

The UN refugee agency has named the British coordinator of a UN-run mine clearance programme in southern Lebanon and his civilian staff, including almost 1,000 Lebanese mine clearers, as the winners of the 2008 Nansen Refugee Award.

Christopher Clark, a former officer with the British armed forces, became manager of the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre-South Lebanon (UNMACC-SL) n 2003. His teams have detected and destroyed tons of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and tens of thousands of mines. This includes almost 145,000 submunitions (bomblets from cluster-bombs) found in southern Lebanon since the five-week war of mid-2006.

Their work helped enable the return home of almost 1 million Lebanese uprooted by the conflict. But there has been a cost – 13 mine clearers have been killed, while a further 38 have suffered cluster-bomb injuries since 2006. Southern Lebanon is once more thriving with life and industry, while the process of reconstruction continues apace thanks, in large part, to the work of the 2008 Nansen Award winners.

2008 Nansen Refugee Award

Beyond the Border

In 2010, the Turkish border with Greece became the main entry point for people attempting by irregular methods to reach member states of the European Union, with over 132,000 arrivals. While some entered as migrants with the simple wish of finding a better life, a significant number fled violence or persecution in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq and Somalia. The journey is perilous, with many reports of drowning when people board flimsy vessels and try to cross the Mediterranean Sea or the River Evros on the border between Greece and Turkey. The many deficiencies in the Greek asylum system are exacerbated by the pressure of tens of thousands of people awaiting asylum hearings. Reception facilities for new arrivals, including asylum-seekers, are woefully inadequate. Last year, UNHCR visited a number of overcrowded facilities where children, men and women were detained in cramped rooms with insufficient facilities. UNHCR is working with the Greek government to improve its asylum system and has called upon other European states to offer support.

Beyond the Border

Lebanese Returnees Receive Aid

UNHCR started distributing emergency relief aid in devastated southern Lebanese villages in the second half of August. Items such as tents, plastic sheeting and blankets are being distributed to the most vulnerable. UNHCR supplies are being taken from stockpiles in Beirut, Sidon and Tyre and continue to arrive in Lebanon by air, sea and road.

Although 90 percent of the displaced returned within days of the August 14 ceasefire, many Lebanese have been unable to move back into their homes and have been staying with family or in shelters, while a few thousand have remained in Syria.

Since the crisis began in mid-July, UNHCR has moved 1,553 tons of supplies into Syria and Lebanon for the victims of the fighting. That has included nearly 15,000 tents, 154,510 blankets, 53,633 mattresses and 13,474 kitchen sets. The refugee agency has imported five trucks and 15 more are en route.

Posted on 29 August 2006

Lebanese Returnees Receive Aid

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