27 November 2014
As the ministerial-level pledging conference on resettlement and other forms of admission for Syrian refugees, to be held in Geneva on 9 December, approaches, some European countries, Norway, France, Belgium and the Netherlands, have shown their intention to welcome more refugees who have fled war and persecution in Syria in 2015.
Norway resettled 1,000 Syrians in 2014. On 21 November, a parliamentary agreement raised the total resettlement quota for 2015 by an additional 500 places, the majority of whom are expected to be refugees from Syrian. Speaking to the ECRE Weekly Bulletin, the Norwegian Refugee Council has welcomed the decision as a step in the right direction, but believes an increase of 3,000 would have been more reasonable, given the scale of the Syrian refugee crisis.
There are also indications that France is likely to pledge at least an additional 500 places for refugees fleeing Syria under a resettlement and humanitarian admission programme in 2015. France Terre d’Asile has told the ECRE Weekly Bulletin that, although it is a welcome step towards more protection and solidarity, France can and should commit more places for the refugees in the neighbouring countries, in particular as the current programme, which saw 500 refugees admitted to France in 2014, seems to be running quite well.
Furthermore, the Belgian Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration announced that Belgium will resettle 150 more refugees from Syria and Iraq next year, bringing the total number of refugees that will be resettled by Belgium in 2015 to 300 people, 225 of which will be Syrian or Iraqi. The Secretary of State highlighted that particular attention will be paid to religious minorities. Welcoming this increased commitment, Flemish Refugee Action have said that they hope this will not be a ‘one time’ measure and that Belgium will also explore, besides resettlement, other ways to give safe and legal access to Syrian refugees.
The Dutch Secretary of State has also announced that the Netherlands will resettle 250 Syrian refugees in 2015 bringing the Dutch pledge to a total of 500 Syrian refugees over three years (2013 – 2015). However the Dutch Council for Refugees has noted that it is disappointing that Secretary of State rejected a motion from the Parliament to accept an extra 250 Syrian refugees above the resettlement quota for 2014. In addition, the 250 Syrian refugees for 2015 will be within the regular quota for resettlement, meaning that refugees in need of resettlement from other countries will not be offered this opportunity.
With the pledging conference offering a crucial opportunity for States to act together and offer additional places for refugees fleeing the conflict, NGOs across Europe are calling for EU States to offer a substantial number of new and additional resettlement places, through resettlement and other forms of admission, either in the framework of national quotas or by means of ad hoc commitments. A large coalition of NGOs in the UK has sent an open letter to David Cameron calling for the UK to offer 10,000 places to refugees fleeing Syria in 2015. Thus far, Britain has only resettled around 100 Syrian refugees, a woefully inadequate number compared to the scale of the crisis, according to the NGOs. Just last week, ECRE joined with Amnesty International, CCME, ICMC, International Rescue Committee, Jesuit Refugee Service Europe, Norwegian Refugee Council and Save the Children to call on the EU and EU States to seize this chance of the pledging conference to offer more refugees the opportunity to rebuild their lives in Europe.
Since 2013, EU Member States have committed over 33,000 places for resettling or admitting refugees from Syria. Germany alone has made 28,500 places available, with twelve other Member States together contributing under 5,000 places. The vast majority, 97% of the refugees, remain in the neighbouring countries of Syria, who are increasingly unable to meet the basic needs of the refugees and some countries, such as Turkey and Lebanon, have started to restrict access to refugees at their borders. At the Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement in June 2014, UNHCR estimated that 378,684 (more than 10%) of Syrian refugees in the Middle East and North Africa region and Turkey have resettlement needs. The UN Refugee Agency is currently calling for 100,000 refugees to be resettled worldwide in 2015 and 2016, with the previous call for 30,000 places to be committed for 2013 and 2014 already met and surpassed.
This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 27 November 2014. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.