News / Middle East

Report: Europe Turning Back Syrian Refugees

Syrian refugee children play with a soccer ball at the Mrajeeb Al Fhood refugee camp in Zarqa, Jordan, July 1, 2014.
Syrian refugee children play with a soccer ball at the Mrajeeb Al Fhood refugee camp in Zarqa, Jordan, July 1, 2014.
Lisa Schlein

A new U.N. refugee agency report finds some European countries are turning back Syrian asylum seekers and denying them a fair hearing to be granted international protection from war and persecution.

Based on the report's findings, the UNHCR officials are urging European countries to make sure Syrian refugees gain access to their territories, are allowed to lodge asylum claims and are provided with decent living conditions until their situation is resolved.

Nearly three million refugees have fled Syria since civil war broke out more than three years ago. Neighboring countries of refuge are buckling under the strain of caring for so many of the displaced, having reached regional saturation.

The Mrajeeb Al Fhood refugee camp in Zarqa, Jordan, has received about 5,000 Syrian refugees so far, July 1, 2014.The Mrajeeb Al Fhood refugee camp in Zarqa, Jordan, has received about 5,000 Syrian refugees so far, July 1, 2014.

The refugee agency says one consequence of this is seen in the increasing numbers of Syrians who now are seeking safety in countries beyond the immediate region. UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming says many Syrians are embarking on long and dangerous journeys to reach safety and in some cases to reunite with family members already in Europe.

Nevertheless, she notes, the numbers of Syrians seeking asylum in Europe remain small.

"In fact, they are miniscule," she said. "They represent only four percent of Syrian refugees. Just to put this into perspective, Europe has a population of 670 million people. [Compare] that to Lebanon, which has a population of 4.4 million people and has received 1.1 million refugees. That means that Lebanon has received 10 times as many refugees as all of Europe."

Since the conflict began in March 2011, UNHCR reports, some 123,600 Syrians have sought asylum in Europe. Most of these asylum seekers are concentrated in a few countries, with Sweden and Germany receiving more than half of all new Syrian asylum applications.

But Fleming says some countries, such as Bulgaria and Spain, have already closed their borders to hundreds of Syrian refugees.

"We also are disturbed by cases and claims of survivors of push-backs at sea in Greece that were turned around from Europe," she said. "There was one case in which survivors claim that their boat was being turned around by an official boat and in the process of being turned around, it capsized and many of the passengers died."  

Fleming also says Russia sent 12 Syrian refugees back to their originating country.

The U.N. refugee agency says Europe has been very generous in contributing money for humanitarian assistance to millions of Syrian refugees. But that it is not being as generous in sharing the burden of caring for these refugees on their soil.

The UNHCR is urging countries across Europe to implement a comprehensive plan to assist those refugees who arrive and to help Syrian refugees find legal ways to reach Europe.

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Comment Sorting
by: Not Again from: Canada
July 11, 2014 9:45 PM
The problem of the European countries, wrt refugees, is not with the very poor countries in the Balkans, but the total failure of the rich states, like Norway, Sweeden, Denmark, Germany... for not sending their fleets to the Mediterranean sea, off the coast of North Africa, and rescue-ing the tens of thousands of refugees, that leave the coast in precarious boats, many of which sink, causing great loss of life.
The mentioned countries have glowing economies, good housing, good social programs, and rapidly declining populations caused by low birth rates, thus the refugees could improve the population decline in the rich states, a win/win for all. In addition, those mentioned countries are very liberal, of advanced social standards, they are the ones that motivated the refugee welcoming standards and feed the hopes of the refugee/creating the crisis in Southern Europe.
Realistically speaking, most refugees' end target countries are the Nordic countries, they left poverty/violence/lack of futures in their own countries, to persue a better future. Even many of the Balkan citizens are heading for the rich EU countries. So the UN blaming the poor European countries, that can't provide their own people, never mind thousands of refugees, is unsensitive and wrong.
Fix the problem, spare the refugees the ardous trek to the mentioned rich countries by rescuing them and sailing them in comfort to the rich countries, that is the wanted destination of the refugees, and not the poor Balkans.
In Response

by: 1worldnow from: Earth
July 12, 2014 8:41 PM
That's right!!!! Why don't we treat this like a natural disaster!!!!!! If this were a tsunami, then the US Navy, World help organizations, etc and heearts bleeding everywhere would rally together to help the victims of a natural disaster. To begin, I think the word "refugee" needs to be eliminated from the dictionary altogether! When there are families, women, children involved, they should be labelled as "HUMAN BEINGS!!!" There is the popular expression the America is the richest most powerful nation in mankind's history. Though I do feel that way, but anyone who makes that kind of comment about my country doesn't realize that America is great because "Bring me your poor, the tired huddled masses yearning to breathe free...." For every nation that is successful, this should be a requirement! That's right, the Rich may have all the money, but the Poor have the strength and courage to make any nation great!!!!!!!!!

We do not turn our backs on people that need our help. And we shouldn't be calling them refugees. Thanks Not Again, your heart is in the right place.

by: John
July 11, 2014 8:18 PM
The Syrians are strong anti-colonialists, yet they seem eager to colonise other states. That the Europeans should consider turn-about is fair play is understandable, especially countries like Greece and Bulgaria which were colonised by Turkey for so long.
In Response

by: 1worldnow from: Earth
July 11, 2014 10:30 PM
When politics and religion tears your country apart, and you have to find somewhere to bring your family, your children, then I would like for you to comment about such things.

But since you are comfortable, don't have to worry, and can cast these kinds of comments against those who obviously need our help, then keep on knocking them down! Anything you can do to help push the train of human suffering. Right on, keep pushing. Maybe one day you will get tired of pushing. Maybe one day you might actually care. Maybe.

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