In a briefing published today, An international failure: The Syrian refugee crisis, Amnesty International has condemned the lack of willingness of EU Member States to resettle refugees from Syria.

EU countries have only offered to receive through resettlement or humanitarian admission programmes around 12,000 of the most vulnerable refugees from Syria, which amounts to just 0.5 per cent of the 2.3 million people who have fled the country. This percentage equates to roughly the number of refugees registered in Lebanon just in the last five days of November.

“The EU has miserably failed to play its part in providing a safe haven to the refugees who have lost all but their lives. The number of those it’s prepared to resettle is truly pitiful. Across the board European leaders should hang their heads in shame,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

Germany has pledged to take 10,000 refugees via a humanitarian admission programme, which accounts for 80 per cent of the total EU pledges. The remaining 27 Member States have only offered to take 2,340 refugees from Syria. France has offered just 500 places, which is 0.02 per cent of the total number of people who have fled Syria. 18 Member States – including the UK and Italy – have offered no resettlement places at all.

As winter approaches, conditions for the over 2 million people who have fled Syria to neighbouring countries are deteriorating rapidly. With only over 12,000 places offered by EU Member States for resettlement or humanitarian admission, others attempt to reach Europe irregularly, often undertaking a life-threatening journey. In two years, 55,000 people from Syria have sought asylum in the EU, amounting to 2.4% of refugees from Syria.

Amnesty demonstrates that in two of the main gateways to the EU, Bulgaria and Greece, refugees from Syria are met with deplorable treatment, including illegal push-back operations along the Greek coast, and detention in poor conditions in Bulgaria. Amnesty International’s briefing gives first-hand accounts of those who have attempted to reach Europe. A 32 year-old man from Syria described how he and his mother were confronted by the Greek coastguard near the island of Samos in October. They were part of a group of 35 people including women and young children pushed back to Turkey. “They put all the men lying on the boat; they stepped on us and hit us with their weapons for three hours. Then at around 10 in the morning, after removing the motor, they put us back to our plastic boat and drove us back to the Turkish waters and left us in the middle of the sea”, he said.

In the last two years, under the Return Fund and the External Borders Fund, the European Commission has provided Greece with € 228 million to strengthen border controls and increase the country’s capacity to detain people believed to have irregularly entered the country. In comparison, for the same time period, just € 12 million was allocated to Greece under the European Refugee Fund, which supports efforts in receiving refugees.

Amnesty International is calling on Member States to significantly increase the number of resettlement and humanitarian admission places for refugees from Syria and facilitate family reunification; to strengthen search and rescue capacity in the Mediterranean to identify boats in distress and assist those on board and to ensure that those rescued are treated with dignity and have access to asylum procedures; to ensure that unlawful push-back operations are ended; and to continue to provide support to countries in the region hosting the largest numbers of refugees.



This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 13 December 2013
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