Resettling 10 Percent of Syrian Refugees: The commitment needed at the Geneva conference

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The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is organizing a ‘Highlevel meeting on global responsibility sharing through pathways for admission of Syrian refugees’, which will be opened by the United Nations Secretary-General in Geneva on 30 March 2016. Oxfam is calling for the states attending the Geneva conference to collectively commit to offer a safe haven through resettlement or other forms of humanitarian admission to at least 10 percent of the refugee population – the equivalent of 481,220 people – by the end of 2016.
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  OXFAM BRIEFING NOTE 29 MARCH 2016 www.oxfam.org  Hannan Hassan Khalaf, 20, sits with her daughter and son in the tent in which she and her family live at an informal settlement for Syrian refugees near the town of Baalbek in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, in January 2016. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam RESETTLING 10 PERCENT OF SYRIAN REFUGEES The commitment needed at the Geneva conference The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is organising a ‘High-level meeting on global responsibility sharing through pathways for admission of Syrian refugees’, which will be opened by the United Nations Secretary-General in Geneva on 30 March 2016. Oxfam is calling for the states attending the Geneva conference to collectively commit to offer a safe haven through resettlement or other forms of humanitarian admission to at least 10 percent of the refugee population – the equivalent of 481,220 people – by the end of 2016.  2 INTRODUCTION The crisis in Syria entered its sixth year in March 2016. In the previous year, despite recent progress with a partial cessation of hostilities and resumption of political negotiations, civilians were still being targeted and besieged, humanitarian assistance failed to reach huge numbers of people in need, and attacks on hospitals and schools continued. The violence in Syria has created a massive refugee crisis, with over 4.8 million people registered in neighbouring countries. At the same time these countries, including Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, have struggled to offer adequate levels of services and protection to refugees, leading to an increasing number of vulnerable people. Syrians also continue to risk their lives by taking unsafe routes to Europe. Since 2014, more than 7,500 people, including many children, have died trying to cross the Mediterranean on flimsy boats. It is in this context that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is organising a ‘High-level meeting on global responsibility sharing through pathways for admission of Syrian refugees’, which will be opened by the United Nations Secretary-General in Geneva on 30 March 2016. To date the response to calls of increased resettlement of vulnerable refugees has been disappointing, and the conference is an opportunity for states to mark a change of course. Oxfam is calling for the states attending the Geneva conference to collectively commit to offer a safe haven through resettlement or other forms of humanitarian admission to at least 10 percent of the refugee population – the equivalent of 481,220 people – by the end of 2016. This corresponds to the number of refugees UNHCR has identified as vulnerable. Providing resettlement spaces does not excuse countries, whether Syria’s neighbours or rich states, for closing their borders to Syrians seeking asylum from conflict at home. Moreover, resettlement cannot be used as a bargaining chip in political deals. It is about providing a home to vulnerable refugees, not a method for managing migration or justifying harsh asylum policies.   3 RESETTLEMENT FOR 10 PERCENT OF THE REFUGEE POPULATION BY END OF 2016 Resettling at least 10 percent of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees: Both urgent and possible There are close to 5 million Syrians registered as refugees in neighbouring countries. In the past year alone, nearly a million more Syrians fled their homes and are now internally displaced or living in Syria’s neighbours. The generosity shown by the communities of Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan for years has resulted in massive impacts on public service provision and their economies. Authorities in these countries have taken measures to restrict the arrival of Syrians. At the border with Jordan, more than 44,000 Syrians are stranded in a no man’s land with little to no humanitarian aid or services. And at the Turkish border, at least 30,000 Syrians remain in search of safety. While humanitarian funding pledges made at the London donor conference in February are promising and commitments made by refugee-hosting governments to provide work opportunities and ease restrictions are welcome, the reality is that funds will not be enough to match the growing needs, and an increasing number of refugees will become increasingly vulnerable. UNHCR has estimated that 10 percent of refugees are very vulnerable and in need of resettlement, and several international organisations have called for 10 percent to be resettled by the end of 2016. 1  The response to this call has been disappointing. Traditional resettlement countries like the US are not pulling their weight. President Barack Obama has pledged to resettle just 10,000 Syrian refugees between October 2015 and September 2016, but nearly halfway through that timeframe, fewer than 1,000 Syrians have arrived out of a total of fewer than 3,000 who have been resettled to the US since January 2013. The British government has offered to resettle 20,000 refugees by 2020. If spread across the UK, that would mean each of its 69 cities receives around 60 refugees per year. Germany and Canada have both shown that where there is political will there is a way to offer this lifeline to desperate refugees, each resettling or providing humanitarian admissions to at least 26,000 in a relatively short timeframe.  4 Ensuring the most vulnerable can access resettlement: Unregistered refugees and others fleeing the conflict in Syria, including Palestine refugees Resettlement and other forms of humanitarian admission are for vulnerable refugees. Governments committing places to refugees, as well as UNHCR, must ensure that particularly vulnerable groups – such as refugees who are not registered with UNHCR, or Palestine refugees from Syria – are not excluded. Unregistered refugees Only Syrian nationals currently registered with UNHCR are eligible for resettlement through the majority of existing mechanisms. This excludes a considerable number of Syrians currently in Lebanon who did not register prior to 5 January 2016 or entered the country after this date, when the UNHCR registration process was effectively suspended at the request of the Lebanese government, leaving thousands in Lebanon unregistered. This lack of registration is in itself a cause of vulnerability, meaning the very people who may need resettlement the most are unable to access it. Palestine refugees from Syria There are at least 60,000 Palestine refugees from Syria 2  across neighbouring countries who would both urgently need and potentially desire the resettlement option. They face challenges in countries like Lebanon and Jordan, including limited access to basic services, employment, limitations on mobility, additional obstacles in maintaining valid registration and legal status, and in some cases risk of deportation. Palestine refugees from Syria have been formally banned from entering Jordan since January 2013, and in Lebanon, they faced restrictions entering the country long before Syrians. Many of them who have managed to stay in neighbouring countries live in Palestine refugee camps that are already dense and overpopulated. Other safe and legal routes: Resettlement of vulnerable refugees must not be politically manipulated Currently, legal routes to seek protection outside of Syria’s immediate region are very limited. The recent agreement between the EU and Turkey fails to respect the spirit of international law, as well as EU, and could amount to trading human beings for political concessions. 3  Commitments to resettle refugees must not be used to limit routes for refugees seeking safety spontaneously, justify harsh asylum policies or limit numbers of refugees arriving in third countries, particularly in Europe.
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