The world’s pitiful response to Syria’s refugee crisis

© Amnesty International (Photo: Richard Burton)

Next week’s pledging conference must be used to turn the tide around. It is
time for world governments to take the courageous steps needed to share the
responsibility for this crisis and help avert further suffering.

Amnesty International

Press Release

5 December 2014

World leaders are failing to offer protection to Syria’s most vulnerable refugees
with catastrophic consequences, Amnesty International has warned in a new
briefing ahead of a UN pledging conference in Geneva on 9 December.

Left Out in the Cold: Syrian refugees abandoned by the international community highlights the pitiful numbers of resettlement places offered by the international community.

Around 3.8 million refugees are being hosted in five main countries within the region: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.Only 1.7 per cent of this number have been offered sanctuary by the rest of the world since the crisis began more than three years ago.

The Gulf states– which include some of the world’s wealthiest countries – have
not offered to take a single refugee from Syria so far. Russia and China have
similarly failed to pledge a single resettlement place. Excluding Germany, the
rest of the European Union (EU) has pledged to resettle a paltry 0.17 per cent of
refugees in the main host countries.

“The shortfall in the number of resettlement places for refugees offered by the
international community is truly shocking. Nearly 380,000 people have been
identified as in need of resettlement by the UN refugee agency, yet just a tiny
fraction of these people have been offered sanctuary abroad,” said Sherif
Elsayed-Ali, Amnesty International’s Head of Refugee and Migrants’ Rights.

“The World Food Programme announcement earlier this week that is has been
forced to suspend food aid to 1.7 million refugees due to a funding crisis
underscores the abysmal response of the international community.

“The complete absence of resettlement pledges from the Gulf is particularly
shameful. Linguistic and religious ties should place the Gulf states at the
forefront of those offering safe shelter to refugees fleeing persecution and war
crimes in Syria.”

In Lebanon, a country with a precarious economy and mounting debt, the influx
of refugees from Syria has increased the country’s population by 26 per cent.
The number of refugees hosted there is 715 times the total of the number of
Syrians who sought asylum in the EU in the last three years and the
resettlement places offered by the EU.

The lack of international support has had disastrous consequences with the five
main host countries, who are currently hosting at least 95 per cent of Syria’s
refugees, seriously struggling to cope. Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have
imposed severe restrictions on the entry of refugees in recent months leaving
many trapped in Syria at serious risk of abuses by government forces or at the
hands of the group that calls itself the Islamic State (IS) and other armed groups.

Amnesty International is calling for at least five per cent of Syria’s refugees to be
resettled by the end of 2015 with a further five per cent resettled by 2016. This
would ensure that all those currently identified as in need of resettlement by
UNHCR would be given places. Refugees in need of resettlement include
survivors of torture, unaccompanied children and people with serious medical

“Next week’s pledging conference must be used to turn the tide around. It is
time for world governments to take the courageous steps needed to share the
responsibility for this crisis and help avert further suffering,” said Sherif ElsayedAli.

“If a tiny country with a weak economy and huge debt like Lebanon can
accommodate an increase of a quarter of its population others can certainly be
doing more to help.”

While some of the world’s wealthier countries including the USA, the UK and
Kuwait have made generous contributions to the UN humanitarian response this
alone is not enough.

“Countries cannot ease their consciences with cash pay-outs then simply wash
their hands of the matter,” said Sherif Elsayed-Ali.

“With no end in sight to the conflict in Syria and little prospect of refugees being
able to return home in the near future, resettlement is essential to help the most
vulnerable and ease the burden on host countries in the region.”

Even out of the international resettlement pledges already made, just a fraction have been fulfilled so far. As of August 2014, only 7,000 refugees referred by UNHCR for resettlement had left for new homes in their destination countries.

“The apathy we have witnessed from some of the world’s wealthiest countries
has been exacerbated by scare-mongering over rising immigration levels across
Europe. Those with the economic means to do so must play a greater role,” said
Sherif Elsayed-Ali.

In reality the total number of Syrians who have reached and applied for asylum
in the EU in the past three years was approximately 150,000. This is roughly the
same as the number of people who flooded into Turkey in the space of just one
week in September 2014 in fleeing the IS advance on the Syrian town of Kobani.


Within the EU, Sweden and Germany are hosting the largest number of Syrian
asylum-seekers. Together, the two countries have received 96,500 new Syrian
asylum applications in the last three years, representing 64% of all such
applications in the block.

In addition, Germany’s resettlement commitments amount to nearly half of the
global total. Excluding Germany, the five largest countries in the EU (the UK,
France, Italy, Spain and Poland) have pledged just 2,000 places between them
constituting just 0.001per cent of their combined populations.

Public Document

For more information or to arrange an interview please contact:

Stefanie Mair
Media and Communications Assistant
Amnesty International European Institutions Office
Email: [email protected]
Telephone: +32 (0)2 548 27 73
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