The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has released a new guidance note entitled ‘International Protection Considerations with regard to people fleeing the Syrians Arab Republic, Update II’. UNHCR characterizes the flight of civilians from Syria as a refugee movement and emphasises that armed hostilities have left no area within Syria unaffected by the conflict.

UNHCR considers that most Syrians seeking international protection are likely to fulfil the requirements of the refugee definition contained in the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, since they will have a well-founded fear of persecution linked to one of the Convention grounds. UNHCR argues that for many civilians who have fled Syria, the nexus to a 1951 Convention ground will lie in the direct or indirect, real or perceived association with one of the parties to the conflict. In order for an individual to meet the refugee criteria, UNHCR states that there is no requirement of having been individually targeted in the sense of having been “singled out” for persecution which already took place or being at risk thereof. Furthermore, in the increasingly exceptional cases in which the 1951 Convention inclusion criteria will not be met, consideration must be given to other forms of international protection.

UNHCR notes that in addition to concerns over the obstacles people wanting to flee reportedly face within Syria in order to reach the border, there are growing concerns over increasingly strict admission criteria applied by host countries. UNHCR continues to urge all countries to ensure that persons fleeing Syria, including Palestinian refugees and other habitual residents of Syria in need of international protection, have the right to seek asylum and are admitted into their territories.

UNHCR also reiterates that persons having fled Syria who cross international waters in search of international protection should be allowed to disembark at a place of safety, meaning a place which is physically safe, where basic needs can be met, and where they are safe from refoulement. The note states that the entry and admission of persons having fled Syria needs to be dealt with in a protection-sensitive manner, regardless of whether they resort to seeking entry without appropriate documentation or in an otherwise irregular manner.  

In addition, the paper provides more detailed ‘risk profiles’, of those fleeing persecution in Syria, including citizen journalists, bloggers, doctors, artists, persons with a LGBTI orientation, Palestinian refugees, human rights defenders and humanitarian workers.

More than 2.1 million Syrians are registered or waiting to be registered in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and other countries in North Africa. Some 53,000 asylum applications have been submitted by Syrians in European countries (other than Turkey) since the beginning of the conflict in 2011 until the end of August 2013. 

This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 31 October 2013
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