syref

Watching the endless stream of dismal news from Syria, we can feel at a loss at how to help. The truth is that much more can be done to help millions bearing the brunt of the conflict; all that is missing is the political will to do it.

“Countries across the world can take concrete measures to alleviate the suffering of those who have been displaced by the conflict. More than 4.25 million have been displaced inside Syria and two million are refugees abroad, this amounts to nearly a third of the population. There is little political controversy in helping them, no bickering in the United Nations Security Council, no public disagreement between Russia and the USA. So why is it not happening? ” (AL Jazeera)

Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Global Thematic Issues, outlines five concrete steps the international community can take to help those displaced by the Syrian conflict.

First: Borders must stay open to those escaping the conflict. Neighbouring countries have taken very large numbers of refugees but there have been some unfortunate exceptions. Jordan is not letting in, among others, Palestinian refugees who have been resident in Syria for decades. Egypt has turned away Syrians arriving in the country and deported several hundred others.

Second: The international community – particularly EU countries, Gulf countries Russia, China, India, the USA and others that have the economic means – must fully fund the UN humanitarian appeal for Syria. Humanitarian support must be sustained and not a one off contribution; there should be a clear commitment from individual countries and groupings like the G20 to ensure that humanitarian appeals continue to be funded.

Neighbouring countries, in particular Jordan and Lebanon, will need ongoing support to be able to continue hosting large numbers of refugees and providing them with essential services, such schooling and health care. Lebanon is now hosting 759,000 refugees from Syria; one in every six people in the country. Jordan, one of the most water-stressed countries in the world is now home to 525,000 refugees from Syria, a twelfth of the country’s population. Here again, the role of the international community is critical.

Third: Anyone fleeing Syria should be considered in need of international protection. The vast majority of refugees from Syria, including Palestinian refugees, are likely to meet the criteria for refugee status under international law. They should be able to access refugee protection and the benefits afforded by refugee status. Key to this is that refugees from Syria should not be restricted to short residency periods or excluded from family reunification.

Fourth: Refugees from Syria, like all refugees, should not be subject to immigration detention. Refugees from Syria have been detained in various countries including Bulgaria, Egypt and Greece. Immigration detention of refugees is unlawful under international law.

Fifth: European countries, which resettle a relatively small number of refugees, should take vulnerable refugees out of the region, either by offering to resettle them or through humanitarian admission programmes. These must be over and above paltry existing refugee resettlement programmes. And it must be a serious effort of resettling thousands of refugees, not just token numbers. Resettlement and humanitarian admission will only make a small dent in the very large number of refugees hosted by Syria’s neighbours, but it can be a very effective way of assisting those that are most vulnerable.