UNHCR urges Europe to do more to help Syrian refugees

News Stories, 11 July 2014

Norway accelerated the resettlement of a Syrian refugee family because the baby Yousef needed urgent medical care. The family now lives in a house in Oslo and everyone is learning Norwegian.

GENEVA, 11 July (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Friday called for European nations to do more to help Syrian refugees who are trying in growing numbers to reach the safety of Europe.

A new report, Syrian Refugees in Europe: What Europe can do to Ensure Protection and Solidarity, found that Europe is shouldering only a small part of the Syrian refugee problem. Just four per cent of Syrian refugees have sought asylum in Europe.

Since the conflict began in March 2011, some 123,600 Syrians have sought asylum in Europe, not including Turkey. There are over 2.9 million refugees in countries immediately neighbouring Syria.

UNHCR urged states to ensure access to their territory, including fair and efficient asylum procedures; to provide adequate reception conditions; and to take other measures to provide protection and safety for refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria.

"An increasing number of Syrians are now seeking safety in countries beyond the immediate region," UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming told reporters. "Many are embarking on long and dangerous journeys to reach safety and in some cases to reunite with family members already in Europe."

In the EU, Syrian asylum-seekers are mostly concentrated in a few states: Sweden and Germany received 56 per cent of all new Syrian asylum applications, and the top five receiving countries (Sweden, Germany, Bulgaria, Switzerland and the Netherlands) received almost 70 per cent.

The number of Syrians reaching Europe by sea increased in 2013, with Syrians among the main nationalities rescued in the Mediterranean 11,307 Syrians by Italy alone in 2013. The numbers crossing by sea has risen again this year.

A high number of Syrians arrive in many European countries intending to proceed to other destinations. Reasons behind the onward movement are complex: inadequate reception conditions, difficulties accessing the asylum procedure, family links in other countries and an expectation of better assistance and integration prospects in other countries.

"Today's report urges countries across Europe to implement a comprehensive response based on their responsibilities under international and regional law and to clearly demonstrate solidarity with countries in the region," Fleming said at a news briefing. "This includes enhancing legal ways for Syrian refugees to reach Europe."

UNHCR welcomed the treatment of Syrians by many European states, including the de facto moratorium on returns to Syria, access to asylum procedures in most countries and the high protection rates granted to Syrians.

However, the report also highlighted gaps and practices that concern UNHCR. These include pushbacks at land and sea borders reported in Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Spain, Albania, Montenegro, the Russian Federation, Serbia and Ukraine.

There was also concern at slow access to effective asylum procedures, inadequate reception conditions, backlogs in asylum procedures, barriers to family reunification, the lack of mechanisms to identify and assist asylum-seekers with vulnerabilities, and use of detention.

UNHCR wants countries to look at all options, including resettlement, admission based on humanitarian needs, admission schemes based on private sponsorship and the use of programmes such as student or employment visas. UNHCR urged states to actively facilitate family reunification, including for extended family members of Syrians who have already been granted some form of protection in Europe.

European countries have to date offered 31,817 places for resettlement, humanitarian and other forms of admission for refugees from Syria. UNHCR has called on states to provide resettlement and other forms of admission for 100,000 Syrians in 2015 and 2016.

Read the report http://www.refworld.org/docid/53b69f574.html



Emergency Resettlement – One Family's Journey to a New LifePlay video

Emergency Resettlement – One Family's Journey to a New Life

After their family fled Syria, young brothers Mohamed and Youssef still were not safe. Unable to access medical treatment for serious heart and kidney conditions, they and the rest of their family were accepted for emergency resettlement to Norway.

UNHCR country pages


Advocacy is a key element in UNHCR activities to protect people of concern.


An alternative for those who cannot go home, made possible by UNHCR and governments.

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

Between February and October 2011, more than 1 million people crossed into Tunisia to escape conflict in Libya. Most were migrant workers who made their way home or were repatriated, but the arrivals included refugees and asylum-seekers who could not return home or live freely in Tunisia.

UNHCR has been trying to find solutions for these people, most of whom ended up in the Choucha Transit Camp near Tunisia's border with Libya. Resettlement remains the most viable solution for those registered as refugees at Choucha before a cut-off date of December 1, 2011.

As of late April, 14 countries had accepted 2,349 refugees for resettlement, 1,331 of whom have since left Tunisia. The rest are expected to leave Choucha later this year. Most have gone to Australia, Norway and the United States. But there are a more than 2,600 refugees and almost 140 asylum-seekers still in the camp. UNHCR continues to advocate with resettlement countries to find solutions for them.

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to the Syrian capital Damascus on 2 October, 2009 to meet Iraqi refugees two years after her last visit. The award-winning American actress, accompanied by her partner Brad Pitt, took the opportunity to urge the international community not to forget the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who remain in exile despite a relative improvement in the security situation in their homeland. Jolie said most Iraqi refugees cannot return to Iraq in view of the severe trauma they experienced there, the uncertainty linked to the coming Iraqi elections, the security issues and the lack of basic services. They will need continued support from the international community, she said. The Goodwill Ambassador visited the homes of two vulnerable Iraqi families in the Jaramana district of southern Damascus. She was particularly moved during a meeting with a woman from a religious minority who told Jolie how she was physically abused and her son tortured after being abducted earlier this year in Iraq and held for days. They decided to flee to Syria, which has been a generous host to refugees.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

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

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: Refugees Onward JourneyPlay video

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: Refugees Onward Journey

A transit centre at Vinojug, on FYR Macedonia's border with Greece is where the refugees and migrants pass through on their journey further into Europe. Here UNHCR and partner organisations provide food, water, medical care, psycho-social support and information for refugees who take the train towards the border with Serbia. UNHCR also provides information on how to access the asylum system in the country. In recent weeks, an average of 6,300 refugees pass through the camp every day, yesterday that number grew to 10,000, a record.
Croatia: Sunday Train ArrivalsPlay video

Croatia: Sunday Train Arrivals

On Sunday a train of 1800 refugees and migrants made their way north from the town of Tovarnik on Croatia's Serbian border. They disembarked at Cakovec just south of Slovenia. Most of the people are Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi. Their route to Western Europe has been stalled due to the closing of Hungarian borders. Now the people have changed their path that takes through Slovenia. Croatia granted passage to over 10,000 refugees this weekend. Croatian authorities asked Slovenia to take 5000 refugees and migrants per day. Slovenia agreed to take half that number. More than a thousand of desperate people are being backed up as result, with more expected to arrive later Monday.
Croatia; Destination UnknownPlay video

Croatia; Destination Unknown