Western governments should offer haven as number of Syrian refugees reaches 3 million

29th Aug 2014


UK has so far only taken in 50 Syrian refugees under its vulnerable persons relocation scheme 


Western and other rich countries should step up their efforts to resettle Syrian refugees, Oxfam said today after the number registered with UNHCR reached 3 million. 


Urgent action is necessary in order to respond to a growing regional crisis caused by increasing displacement, insufficient aid and over-burdened infrastructure in neighbouring countries, Oxfam added.


Approximately 5,000 refugees have been resettled in countries beyond Syria's neighbours through the UN: that's only 0.16 percent of the registered refugee population. 


The UK government has been an incredibly generous aid donor and is the second largest bilateral donor to the emergency aid effort across the region. It deserves real credit for this generosity which is helping to save lives on the ground.  However, the UK could do more to help resettle the most vulnerable refugees from Syria. To date, it has pledged several hundred refugee places and only 50 Syria refugees have been resettled by June 2014.


Since the crisis began the UK has granted asylum to over 3,000 Syrian nationals, and their dependents, who were present in the UK. To claim asylum in the UK refugees have to be present in the UK. 


Meanwhile the UN humanitarian appeal for the refugee response is still woefully underfunded, with less than half the money it needs.  Though neighbouring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey have been very generous in helping refugees to date, their generosity is wearing thin as often poor host communities bear the brunt of Syria's ongoing crisis. The international community must play its part in offering refugees protection, and supporting neighbouring countries to accept people fleeing the conflict in Syria.


Andy Baker, head of Oxfam's Syria crisis response, said: "As the number of refugees grows, aid is proving insufficient and neighbouring countries are stretched to breaking point. It is shocking that over three years into a crisis which shows no sign of abating, under the UN refugee resettlement scheme rich countries have taken in a mere 5,000 of the 3 million registered refugees who are often struggling to survive from one day to the next.


"The international community should step up its support and work with the UN to quickly offer a life-line to some of the most vulnerable families by giving them a new home. The refugees we work with are desperate to return to rebuild their lives in Syria, but while a political solution to the crisis remains elusive, there is sadly no way that they can." 


Facing significant funding shortfalls, humanitarian agencies have already had to cut programmes and target their assistance, leaving refugees to go without. In Jordan, Oxfam has had to halt cash payments that were helping 6,500 refugees in host communities. In June 2014, the UN was forced to downscale the funding target aimed at refugees from $4.2bn to $3.74bn due to a lack of available funds from donors.


"The fact that 3 million Syrians are now refugees is just part of the picture of human suffering. With 10.8 million more people needing help inside Syria and indiscriminate attacks on civilians claiming more lives each week, more and more families will be forced to seek sanctuary. Refugees are increasingly depleting their savings and assets: with opportunities to work in neighbouring countries often limited or non-existent, people have few choices left open to them and many can't see how they can provide for their families in the future. Without sustainable support for an improved humanitarian response and increased resettlement for the most vulnerable refugees, the road ahead looks incredibly bleak," added Baker.


In Jordan, the settlement of thousands of Syrian refugees in a very water-scarce area is putting huge pressure on available water resources. Refugees who Oxfam is working with in Zaatari camp have to make do with just over 35 litres per person per day for essential drinking and cleaning - a dramatic drop from the 70-145 litres they were used to back home in Syria.


With soaring summer temperatures, the threat of health risks looms large as Oxfam and other humanitarian agencies battle to meet basic needs, while working to create a piped water network that will provide Zaatari camp residents with a more sustainable water source.  


ENDS