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Six years since the demonstrations that triggered the descent into a brutal civil war, millions of Syrians are bearing the brunt of increasingly restrictive policies around the world and inside Syria to stop them reaching safety, Oxfam warned today.
Those who have fled Syria are seeing doors slammed in their faces as rich countries across the world enact policies hostile towards refugees. Since the end of January 2017, the United States, European Union member states, including the United Kingdom, have changed, suspended or cancelled policies that could have seen tens of thousands of refugees offered a safe haven.
Amongst the most vulnerable are the approximately 78,000 people trapped along Syria’s sealed borders with Jordan, the hundreds of thousands more prevented from entering Turkey, and over 640,000 people struggling to survive under military sieges in Syria, imposed by the Government of Syria and its allies, armed opposition groups and ISIS.
Andy Baker, who leads Oxfam’s Syria Crisis Response said: “A new international consensus is emerging to stop Syrians fleeing violence, rather than stopping the violence that is causing them to flee. The result is civilians in the firing line and under crippling military siege, vulnerable refugees left with no resettlement options, and attempts to return Syrians to a conflict zone.
"US President Donald Trump recently issued a new Executive Order that completely halts the country’s refugee resettlement programme for 120 days. This unprecedented action poses a real threat to the lives of Syrians and other refugees who, given the multiple, overlapping and time-sensitive medical and security screenings imposed by the process, effectively have only a two month window to travel before checks begin to expire. Oxfam called this “another attempt to slam the door on thousands of vulnerable refugees who desperately need help."
On the anniversary of the first Syria protests on Wednesday (15 March), the EU will lift a suspension on the return of refugees to Greece under the Dublin Regulation, meaning refugees who enter into Greece after this date and travel across Europe are at risk of being returned to Greece to process their asylum claims. This is despite the European Commission's own admission that their policies are putting the Greek asylum system under massive strain and leaving people in appalling conditions.
The date also coincides with one year on from the EU-Turkey deal, which has caused huge suffering to many people - including many Syrians - who are trying to enter Europe to reach safety and the chance of a better life. The EU-Turkey deal has left many people in overcrowded and appalling conditions on Greek islands, as Europe attempts to return people to Turkey to avoid having to process asylum claims on its shores.
The UK government announced in February that it would cease to accept unaccompanied refugee children from Europe under an amendment to its immigration law passed last year.
Inside Syria, civilians in besieged areas are under a tightening grip. Like in Aleppo at the end of last year, when territory is taken by the Syrian government and their allies, civilians are given the choice of evacuation – often to unsafe areas and where they face threats en route - or to remain in the area and accept rule by the Syrian government, with considerable risks for those who the government perceives as being part of the opposition. Civilian humanitarian workers who have helped their communities in these last years of war are often particularly at risk of reprisal.
Baker said: “The international community must listen to all those affected by the crisis – including those forced to flee across borders and those within Syria, as well as the local humanitarian organizations that have helped them through this tragedy. Until there is a sustainable peace in Syria, all members of the international community have a duty to offer a safe haven to those fleeing the violence and repression.”