Looking ahead to the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council of 21 October, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) urges the EU and its Member States to ensure the protection of all refugees from Syria without discrimination.
EMHRN is concerned about the difficulties faced by Syrian refugees in securing protection and accessing the rights derived from refugee status, as stipulated by the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugees. Even though the new common European asylum system allows the possibility for temporary protection to be provided in the case of a conflict-induced mass influx, EU states remain reluctant to adopt this policy despite the on-going humanitarian crisis.
The United Nations Agency for Refugees (UNHCR) has registered more than 2 million refugees from Syria and estimates the number of internally displaced persons at 4.25 million. Countries in the region have opened their borders to 97% of these refugees – the majority being in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt – who are either living precariously among local populations or housed in camps with limited freedom of movement.
These countries can no longer cope alone with this extreme humanitarian crisis, as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has repeatedly stressed. They are hard put to cater to the refugees’ basic needs (health care, food, shelter) compounded by two years of conflict while serious tensions are emerging in the host communities. In Egypt, in particular, discrimination, arbitrary arrests and deportations to Lebanon, Turkey and Syria are becoming commonplace. EMHRN is particularly concerned about the increased use of violence by Egyptian authorities and the death of two Syrian refugees on 17 September, after Egyptian coast guards opened fire on a boat of migrants and refugees attempting to flee the country.
In this context, the EU’s response – despite being the biggest contributor of financial aid in the region – is insufficient. The many barriers to entering European territory mean that only 46,000 refugees from Syria have been able to get into the EU. EMHRN welcomes Sweden’s initiative to grant permanent residence to all Syrian refugees in the country, and Germany’s temporary resettlement of 5,000 more. However these commitments, and the more limited ones of other member states, remain sorely lacking when considering that 5,000 refugees are fleeing Syria on a daily basis.
EMHRN urges the EU to:
– Offer all refugees from Syria the temporary protection provided for in cases of a mass influx due to a conflict, ensuring that they have access in their chosen Member State without discrimination, particularly on grounds of religion, to a residence and a work permit, and that the rights deriving from their status as refugees, in particular access to health care and decent accommodation, are respected;
– Encourage responsibility-sharing amongst member states to ensure equal access to protection and rights to which refugees are entitled;
– Implement large-scale programmes for the resettlement – temporary or permanent – of refugees from Syria and facilitate family reunification procedures;
– Guarantee and facilitate access to European territory for refugees from Syria, giving special consideration to human rights defenders whose lives are in danger.