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The Muslim World

Syrian Refugees and the International Community
By Dr. Mozammel Haque

As early as 28 April 2014, Rime Altaf, Advisor to the President of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, said,: “Three years of struggle, things are not going to change – horrific sides of battle – it is exactly what happened in other areas of the Middle East – brutal injustice by the regime.”

            In March 2011 the protests turned into things escalated. First month of the struggle, the protests were peaceful. But gradually they became violent, hostile. People were running away for their lives from oppression, persecution and torture. Now it is nearly four years. No solution is in sight. But refugees from Syria have flooded the neighbouring countries. There was a meeting on Migration from Developing and Conflict Region into Europe where Mr. Andrej Mahecic, senior External Relations Officer, UNHCR-UK spoke on the Situation of Refugees from Syria into the Neighbouring Countries and Europe.

            Earlier in 2013, UN High Commissioner for Refugees urged European Countries to do more for Syrian refugees.

            UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres 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, reported on 18 July 2013.

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

            Guterres proposed five key steps that the European Union should take:

i) "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.

ii)"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."

iii) 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 visas requirements; and facilitating the entry of Syrians for work, study, family or humanitarian purposes."

iv) 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, 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.” He said this and it was reported in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Refugees from Syria
The Syrian situation is the most dramatic humanitarian crisis the world has faced in a very long time. Syrians are now the largest refugee population under UNHCR's mandate. The consequences of this massive outflow for the neighbouring countries –Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt- are enormous. Economies, public services, the social fabric of communities and the welfare of families are all heavily affected, not to mention the security impact of the Syrian conflict in the whole region.
The contribution of the host countries in protecting refugees is so fundamental that it makes them by far the largest humanitarian donors in the Syrian context. And yet, while international support to match their efforts has been remarkable, it is clearly not in proportion with the immense needs created by this crisis.

Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, almost half of all Syrians have been forced to leave their home and flee for their lives in search of safety.
Some 800,000 people, many who fled their homes in horror with just the clothes on their backs, are in need of shelter assistance, while 940,000 lack basic winter household items.

Many families are living in makeshift shelters and damaged or incomplete buildings, doing their best to survive in incredibly harsh conditions. Old people and children are particularly vulnerable.
UNHCR is working around the clock with other agencies and aid groups providing urgently needed relief.

Andrej Mahecic, Senior External Relations Officer, UNHCR-UK
Mr. Andrej Mahecic, senior External Relations Officer, UNHCR-UK spoke at great length on the refugee situation in the neighbouring countries and Europe at a meeting on “Migration from Developing and Conflict regions to Europe,” organised and held at IISS, on 24 November, 2014. At the meeting, Mr. Vineenzo Celeste, Deputy Head, Italian Embassy in London also spoke. It was chaired by Lord Michael Williams.

Mr. Andrej Mahecic said, “I will speak more of the humanitarian aspects. Why such a record number of people; we are looking at historically record levels of displacement. More than 51.2 million people in the world today in the situation of forced displacement. The reason why we are at this level; the reasons why these levels are at their highest in the in the post-World War II era. Record- 5.2 million – refugees – internal displaced people- including asylum – why it is the highest?”

“Why the conflict in Syria and other conflicts in the area has been one of the main drivers,” Mr. Mahecic said and added, “the inability of the international community to bring all conflicts to an end. We have seen so far this year more than 190,000 people ending the journey across Mediterranean, not all of them to leave; vast majority number 160,000 people come through Turkey, Spain Malta but it Spain and Greece.”

UNHCR Officer also mentioned, “It needs to be said also, of the 51.2 million displaced people, 86% have been hosted by the developing nations. I have to compare this to the situation a decade ago, where this imbalance was not so obvious, at point 70% of all displacement people were in the developing countries. Speaking of the situation now being most dramatic internal crisis in decades; 30% in the Europe.”

The consequences of this outflow for the neighbouring countries “are enormous economic services and communities and lot of problems heavily affected, not to mention the security impact of the Syrian conflict,” said Mahecic and added, “Lebanon and Jordan have witnessed the dramatic increase in population as a result of Syrian conflict.”

In Turkey –“Turkish government has already spent 4 billion dollars – more than a million of Syrian refugees on their soil,” UNHCR Officer said.

The situation in Syria
“The fall out of the Syrian conflict can be encapsulated into three words:  i) Deaths, ii) Destruction and iii) Displacement.

Of the 9.6 million of the country’s pre-war population of about 21 million about 3.2 million are now living as refugees in the neighbouring countries.
While giving the picture inside Syria, UNHCR Officer said, they can no longer sustain basic services; the prices of things have gone up and in many places. Many of them have been displaced 3 out of 4 remaining in Syria; the country is now living in poverty; and Syrian human development has regressed by 40 years since the conflict erupted.”

Speaking about the UN Appeal, Mr. Mahecic said: “Let me remind you UN appeal which has been the largest in the organisation funded 51% almost 80/90%; of the 11 million Syrians living in the country needed urgent assistance.”

Speaking about deaths, destruction inside Syria, UNHCR Officer maintained, “Every town village inside Syria is either being affected by conflict or population that is being traumatized. It is estimated that more than 400,000 homes have been destroyed; 7.2 million damages someway; 5500 schools destroyed; 3800 mosques damaged or destroyed; prisons are no longer operating; hospitals offer no sanctuary of healing; 60% of ambulances damaged; more than 15,000 doctors have left the country. Now you can only imagine what kind of impact this might have for those who have stayed behind and what kind of services they take.”

Lebanon suffers
Talking about the Syrian refugees in Lebanon and its consequences, Mr. Mahecic said, “Lebanon has suffered far long consequences as a result of the conflict in Syria because the country’s long-standing and deep rooted historical, economic and social ties. The country currently hosts more than 1.2 million registered refugees – 25%. Latest assessment by the World Bank estimated the total cost to Lebanon reached 7.5 billion dollars, it neither includes the Syrian unemployment nor the demographic and political pressure exerted on the country’s stability.

In Jordan
Next comes the neighbouring country Jordan, Speaking about refugees in Jordan, Mr. Mahecic said, “The influx of refugees in Jordan reached a critical level requiring a target level response to address not only humanitarian needs but also the longer term consequences of the crisis. The country currently hosts more than 680,000. These people are mostly in urban areas. This is a tip on the iceberg and overall in the region only about 20% of the Syrian refugees are being hosted provided in the camps, vast majority are being hosted by Jordan families and communities.

Referring about refugees in Turkey; UNHCR Officer said: “According to the Turkish government 4 billion dollars have been spent so far in care and maintenance of the Syrian refugees.

Appeal to International Community
Mr. Mahecic UNHCR Officer appealed to the international community to do more to help the Syrian refugees. He said, “We have been urging international community to do more. First of all it is to:
“i) strengthen the rescue sea operation; it is to ensure the longest tradition of sea help maintaining a stronger search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean including women with support with the EU and other members;
“ii) Europe needs to increase legal alternatives; such dangerous crossings; if you have the chance to read some of the testimonies the way they made the crossings.
“iii) Protection in the region is no longer available; the neighbouring countries are saturated.
“Europe needs the legal alternative to such dangerous crossings. This includes the increasing settlement; humanitarian mission programmes; access to humanitarian visa.