Agencies criticize rich countries’ failure to resettle more Syrians

Oxfam, Save the Children and the Norwegian Refugee Council today criticized the deeply disappointing outcome of today’s international pledging conference for resettlement of refugees fleeing the ongoing crisis in Syria. All three agencies have been calling for rich countries to resettle or provide other forms of humanitarian admission to 10 percent of the more than 4.8 million refugees registered in Syria’s neighboring countries by the end of 2016, as well as offer other safe and legal routes. However, today’s meeting offered to resettle only a tiny fraction of the most vulnerable people with a less ambitious timeline. The agencies said governments have shown a shocking lack of political and moral leadership.

Almost all states attending have failed to show the level of generosity required. A number of states have simply not been willing to make any new commitments despite the overwhelming need. Moreover, the few commitments made by EU Member States comes after the new EU-Turkey deal, where resettlement is being discussed as part of a migration management agreement that seeks to discourage hundreds of thousands of people from seeking a safe haven in Europe.

Andy Baker, head of Oxfam’s response to the Syria crisis, said: ‘Many rich countries seem more preoccupied with keeping Syrians out, or using them as bargaining chips in political deals, instead of offering the most vulnerable a safe haven. The Geneva meeting was an opportunity for them to show support to thousands of refugees who are in dire need of finding a safe home. In the end it delivered little.’

Save the Children’s Regional Advocacy Director, Misty Buswell, said: “International governments have once again denied children fleeing horrific violence a route to safety. Without legal routes, including resettlement for the most vulnerable, children will continue to be pushed into the hands of smugglers and traffickers. The answer to this crisis is not more barbed wire and detention centers, but wealthy countries accepting their fair share of the responsibility.”

Norwegian Refugee Council Secretary General, Jan Egeland said: “Europe gave birth to the Refugee Convention when our forefathers were displaced by war. Now Europe risks becoming the same convention’s burial agent. European and world leaders in 2016 prefer sealing borders and building open air prisons, instead of living up to their legal obligations to protect refugees and support safe routes for those seeking asylum. The collapse of international solidarity witnessed in Geneva undermines half a century of efforts to build international refugee law.”                                                                                  

Notes to editors: 

- Oxfam's fair share analysis for 2016 is available here: http://oxf.am/Z733

- 67,108 Syrian refugees have been resettled since 2013 according to information drawn from publicly available sources including the UNHCR and checked with government sources where possible

- Previous fair shares are available here for 2014 and here for 2015.

Resettlement is an option whereby a third county (i.e. not the one the refugee has fled from, or the country of first asylum or habitual residence) offers refugee status in its territory to an individual. For example, this could mean a refugee from Syria living in Jordan being offered status, and related reception and integration support, in the United States of America.

Humanitarian admission programs are similar, but normally involve expedited processing, and may provide either permanent or temporary stay depending on the legislation or policy of the state offering this option.

Other forms of admission could include allowing Syrian refugees legal access to third countries by relaxing requirements for entry visas to work and study, not necessarily based upon their vulnerabilities.

Asylum: Civilians facing persecution or other risks resulting from armed conflict or massive violations of human rights have a right to flee to safety across international borders and request asylum in another country. States have specific obligations towards asylum seekers under international law, particularly the obligation not to forcibly return them to harm.

Relocation refers to the transfer of asylum-seekers from one European Union (EU) Member State to another. It is an intra-EU process, in which Member States agree to process some of the caseload of States who are receiving a large number of asylum-seekers on their territory.

Contact information: 

Joelle Bassoul, in Beirut: +961-71525218 / jbassoul@oxfam.org.uk