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Rights Group: International Community Not Taking in Syrian Refugees

  • Henry Ridgwell

Syrian refugees have filled camps in Turkey, Jordan and Iraq and have added a quarter to Lebanon's population. Amnesty International says the international community must do more to address the problem.

About 4 million Syrians have fled the spiraling civil war in their country in the past three years, and the great majority are living in poverty in neighboring countries, said Amnesty's Sherif Elsayed-Ali.

“Ninety-five percent of them, 3.8 million, are in just five countries: that’s Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt,” he said.

Dilapidated and overloaded boats full of Syrian refugees continue to arrive on Europe’s Mediterranean shores; tens of thousands have drowned on the journey. About 150,000 Syrian refugees have made it to European Union countries, but that is a small fraction of the number hosted by Syria’s neighbors, Elsayed-Ali said.

“Almost the same number of people arrived in Turkey in the space of just 10 days in September," he said. "Turkey is hosting 1.5 million people, so that’s 10 times the number in just one country.”

No help from Gulf nations

Amnesty said only 1.7 percent of Syrian refugees had been offered sanctuary by the rest of the world.

The United States has offered what it calls an "open-ended" number of resettlement places for Syrian refugees. However, "the U.S. has a very long process of checking people before they resettle, and so far that has been an issue that people haven’t been able to make it there," Elsayed-Ali said. "If you look elsewhere, Russia, Japan, China — zero. Nothing."

He added that the absence of resettlement pledges from the Gulf countries, home to some of the world's wealthiest states and places that share linguistic and religious ties with the refugees, was "particularly shameful."

The United Nations will host a conference Tuesday in Geneva aimed at persuading more countries to accept refugees. Amnesty said there are good examples: Germany has received around 46,000 Syrian asylum-seekers and has pledged 30,000 more places. Sweden has taken a similar number.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, has urged others to follow their lead. “This is not only the responsibility of the countries of the region," he said. "It’s the responsibility of the whole international community.”

Food aid suspended

Many Western countries, including Britain and the United States, are giving hundreds of millions of dollars to help alleviate the refugee crisis. But last month, the United Nations was forced to suspend food aid to 1.7 million Syrian refugees, blaming pledges that "were not honored." The U.N. World Food Program said it needed another $64 million to continue feeding the refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt through the end of the year.

Nazha Nazha fled Homs in Syria and now lives with her two disabled children in a squalid refugee camp outside the Lebanese city of Tripoli. “The U.N. used to help us,” she said, "“but not anymore. It's a catastrophe.”

The U.N. has identified 380,000 people it says are in desperate need of resettlement; many are victims of torture or rape, and many are children.

Human rights groups want delegates at Tuesday’s conference to commit to resettling at least 5 percent of Syria’s refugees by the end of 2015.

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