UN's High Commissioner for Refugees urges Europe to do more for Syrian asylum-seekers

News Stories, 18 July 2013

© UNHCR/J.Tanner
Young Omar with his mother. The two, with father Ahmed, fled from the Syrian town of Idlib and crossed into Turkey. They have been accepted for resettlement in France, a European Union member state.

VILNIUS, Lithuania, July 18 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres today expressed concern about serious gaps in the protection of Syrians arriving in Europe and urged a more generous and consistent approach to Syrians seeking shelter and asylum in Europe.

Noting that just two European countries Germany and Sweden had received nearly two-thirds of the Syrians seeking protection in the entire European Union, Guterres urged more countries to help Syria's neighbours shoulder the burden and to offer asylum or resettlement.

"A positive example from Europe is now crucial," he told a meeting here of the EU's Justice and Home Affairs Council, while noting that the number of Syrian asylum claims in EU countries remains manageable, standing at slightly more than 40,000 since the beginning of the crisis in March 2011.

This compares to Syria's neighbours, who are providing shelter to almost 1.8 million registered Syrian refugees. But, Guterres said, "As the exodus continues and prospects for a political solution for Syria remain poor, there are warning signs of destabilization in some neighbouring countries . . . Lebanon continues to keep its borders open, but elsewhere in the region access to safety is becoming more difficult for Syrians trying to flee." The number of refugees they have received has contributed to the enormous social and economic strain in these host countries.

The High Commissioner said this was "the first real test" to show that the Common European Asylum System (under development since 1999) can function as it should, while citing flaws and inconsistencies in asylum policy across Europe. He said recognition rates varied greatly across the EU; too many states fail to provide swift and fair access to asylum procedures for Syrians; the types of protection and associated rights which Syrians are granted across the European Union are inconsistent; and the treatment of Syrian asylum-seekers needs to be improved in several member states, including excessive use of detention.

"Syrians are fleeing one of the worst conflicts the world has seen in decades, and many of them have been subjected to unspeakable human rights violations and persecution in their home country. Ensuring adequate standards of treatment for them as they seek safety in Europe should be a priority for every EU member state," Guterres.

He also highlighted the case of Turkey, which has received more than ten times as many Syrians as have claimed asylum in other countries in Europe. "The EU has in the past urged Turkey to keep its borders open to Syrians wishing to seek asylum, while at the same time focusing resources on controlling irregular entry at its own external frontiers.

While the management of borders is a sovereign right and legitimate priority of states, the means must be found to ensure that Syrians seeking protection at the EU's frontiers can gain access to territory, procedures and safety. This is crucial in order to demonstrate concretely the European commitment to responsibility-sharing with Turkey and other host countries," he said.

Guterres proposed five key steps that the European Union should take: "Firstly, ensuring access to territory and swift and fair asylum procedures for those seeking protection, notwithstanding the ongoing efforts to improve border control at sensitive external EU frontiers.

"Second, a more consistent and generous approach to protection is needed, particularly as concerns the recognition rates and the forms of protection that are being awarded to Syrian claimants. As the conflict is unlikely to end soon, UNHCR hopes to see protection rates increasing across Europe, and in particular the granting of refugee status with its associated rights."

The High Commissioner also called for more flexibility in the use of existing measures. "This includes helping to reunite family members already in Europe by flexibly applying the Dublin Regulation [which determines the European state responsible to examine an asylum application within Europe until a decision has been made]; dispensing with visa requirements; and facilitating the entry of Syrians for work, study, family or humanitarian purposes."

Guterres encouraged EU states to establish strict limits and safeguards on the use of detention, explore alternatives to detention and do more to improve the conditions for asylum seekers who are awaiting decisions on their protection claims. "And finally," he said, "the EU must engage in more burden-sharing initiatives so as to help mitigate the crushing impact which the refugee crisis is having on Syria's immediate neighbours."

He thanked Germany for offering humanitarian admission to 5,000 Syrian refugees, as well as other states offering resettlement. "I hope to see others come forward with more offers of humanitarian admission or resettlement as the situation evolves."

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UNHCR country pages

The High Commissioner

António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

As world concern grows over the plight of hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians, including more than 200,000 refugees, UNHCR staff are working around the clock to provide vital assistance in neighbouring countries. At the political level, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres was due on Thursday (August 30) to address a closed UN Security Council session on Syria.

Large numbers have crossed into Lebanon to escape the violence in Syria. By the end of August, more than 53,000 Syrians across Lebanon had registered or received appointments to be registered. UNHCR's operations for Syrian refugees in Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley resumed on August 28 after being briefly suspended due to insecurity.

Many of the refugees are staying with host families in some of the poorest areas of Lebanon or in public buildings, including schools. This is a concern as the school year starts soon. UNHCR is urgently looking for alternative shelter. The majority of the people looking for safety in Lebanon are from Homs, Aleppo and Daraa and more than half are aged under 18. As the conflict in Syria continues, the situation of the displaced Syrians in Lebanon remains precarious.

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Turkish Camps Provide Shelter to 90,000 Syrian Refugees

By mid-September, more than 200,000 Syrian refugees had crossed the border into Turkey. UNHCR estimates that half of them are children, and many have seen their homes destroyed in the conflict before fleeing to the border and safety.

The Turkish authorities have responded by building well-organized refugee camps along southern Turkey's border with Syria. These have assisted 120,000 refugees since the crisis conflict erupted in Syria. There are currently 12 camps hosting 90,000 refugees, while four more are under construction. The government has spent approximately US$300 million to date, and it continues to manage the camps and provide food and medical services.

The UN refugee agency has provided the Turkish government with tents, blankets and kitchen sets for distribution to the refugees. UNHCR also provides advice and guidelines, while staff from the organization monitor voluntary repatriation of refugees.

Most of the refugees crossing into Turkey come from areas of northern Syria, including the city of Aleppo. Some initially stayed in schools or other public buildings, but they have since been moved into the camps, where families live in tents or container homes and all basic services are available.

Turkish Camps Provide Shelter to 90,000 Syrian Refugees

Displaced inside Syria: UNHCR and its Dedicated Staff help the Needy

The violence inside Syria continues to drive people from their homes, with some seeking shelter elsewhere in their country and others risking the crossing into neighbouring countries. The United Nations estimates that up to 4 million people are in need of help, including some 2 million believed to be internally displaced.

The UN refugee agency has 350 staff working inside Syria. Despite the insecurity, they continue to distribute vital assistance in the cities of Damascus, Aleppo, Al Hassakeh and Homs. Thanks to their work and dedication, more than 350,000 people have received non-food items such as blankets, kitchen sets and mattresses. These are essential items for people who often flee their homes with no more than the clothes on their backs. Cash assistance has been given to more than 10,600 vulnerable Syrian families.

Displaced inside Syria: UNHCR and its Dedicated Staff help the Needy

Iraq: High Commissioner visits Arbat campPlay video

Iraq: High Commissioner visits Arbat camp

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Iraq: High Commissioner visits displaced IraqisPlay video

Iraq: High Commissioner visits displaced Iraqis

This week UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres is visiting Iraq to meet with families displaced by conflict in recent weeks. After listening to accounts of their difficult journeys to safety, Guterres called for more support to help deal with the crisis. He will also visit some of the 300,000 Syrian refugees currently living in camps in northern Iraq.
The Fight for Survival – Syrian Women AlonePlay video

The Fight for Survival – Syrian Women Alone

Lina has not heard from her husband since he was detained in Syria two years ago. Now a refugee in Lebanon, she lives in a tented settlement with her seven children.