Less than three per cent of nearly five million refugees living in Syria's neighbouring states have been resettled in rich countries according to a report published today by Oxfam. The UK has resettled just 18 per cent of its fair share of Syrian refugees when compared to the size of the country's economy.
While some countries, most notably Germany, have taken in many refugees that have risked the dangerous journey to Europe, most vulnerable refugees who stay in countries neighbouring Syria have little hope of being resettled in a third country.
Oxfam reviewed the resettlement policies of eight countries - Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Russia, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.
It concluded that the UK sets a good example by accepting referrals from the UNHCR of the most vulnerable refugees for resettlement rather than cherry picking people to take in. The number of refugees resettled in the UK does not take into account refugees who arrive spontaneously in the country. But relatively few Syrian refugees have sought asylum in this way since the conflict began due to the difficulty of reaching the country and to the UK's restrictive family reunion policies.
Overall, the UK's response has been too slow and unambitious in offering a safe haven to its fair share of the most vulnerable people who have fled war in Syria to neighbouring countries.
The UK government has provided a lot of much needed funding for Syrian refugees in the region. But the refugee response is only half funded and neighbouring countries are struggling to provide support and protection given the sheer number of refugees.
Mark Goldring, Oxfam's Chief Executive said: "As one part of responding to the horrors, the UK and other rich countries need to do more to help people forced to flee the almost six year war in Syria. The horrifying events in Aleppo and elsewhere are a stain on the conscience of the international community. At the very least, rich countries should be welcoming more Syrian refugees.
"The most vulnerable refugees - the sick, elderly or very young - who stay in countries neighbouring Syria, are the ones paying the price for the UK's sluggishness in offering resettlement places."
Canada resettled about 39,000 Syrians in the last year, while the UK has resettled just over 3000. When compared to the size of the economy of each country, this means that since the start of the Syria conflict Canada has welcomed 248 per cent of its fair share of vulnerable refugees, and the UK a meagre 18 per cent.
Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey host the vast majority of the nearly five million Syrians registered as refugees and along with Iraq and Egypt have faced the refugee crisis with limited support from the rest of the world.
As the conflict in Syria has raged, Syrians have effectively been sealed in as European and then neighbouring countries closed their borders.
Oxfam is calling on the international community to share the responsibility for refugees more equitably, by offering resettlement or other humanitarian admissions to the most vulnerable 10 per cent of Syrian refugees by the end of 2017, in addition to other means of admission, like family reunification and student visas.
Notes to editors:
The full report can be found here
UK figures are based on the latest available UK asylum statistics from 1st December and include refugees who arrived in the UK by 30th September.
Resettlement is an option whereby a third country (i.e. not the one the refugee has fled from, or the country of first asylum/residence) offers refugee status to an individual.
Humanitarian admission programmes are much like resettlement, but normally involve expedited processing, often without the involvement of UNHCR, and may provide either permanent or temporary stay depending on the legislation or policy of the state offering this option.
Oxfam initially called for rich states to collectively commit to offer a safe haven through resettlement or other forms of humanitarian admission to at least 10 percent of the registered refugee population by the end of 2016. This corresponds to the number of refugees UNHCR has identified as vulnerable. Oxfam calculated the specific number it would consider a "fair share" for individual countries based upon the size of their economy.
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