Right to a Future: Empowering refugees from Syria and host governments to face a long-term crisis

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With no end to the conflict in Syria in sight, the four million people forced to flee the country have no foreseeable prospect of safe return. And as the impact of the crisis on neighbouring countries grows and aid dries up, the situation for these refugees is becoming increasingly dire. This briefing calls for a new approach by the international community, including Syria’s neighbours
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  JOINT AGENCY BRIEFING PAPER 9 NOVEMBER 2015 Syrian children gather outside a school in Za‘atari refugee camp in Jordan, September 2015. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam   RIGHT TO A FUTURE Empowering refugees from Syria and host governments to face a long-term crisis With no end to the conflict in Syria in sight, the four million people forced to flee the country have no foreseeable prospect of safe return. And as the impact of the crisis on neighbouring countries grows and aid dries up, the situation for these refugees is becoming increasingly dire. This briefing calls for a new approach by the international community, including Syria’s neighbours; one which offers hope, safety and dignity to the millions of refugees, and gives them a chance to contribute to the societies and economies of their hosts.  2 SUMMARY For nearly five years now, the world has been witnessing the unfolding of one of the largest displacement crises since World War II. Fleeing a devastating conflict that has already claimed the lives of more than a quarter of a million people, more than four million people have left Syria 1  and found temporary shelter in neighbouring countries. This year, driven by a loss of hope and worsening living conditions across the Middle East, Syrian refugees have taken to risky migration to Europe in larger numbers than ever. Their arrival has signalled more clearly the need to create a radical new approach to managing the mass displacement across the wider Euro-Mediterranean region. Most refugee crises last for ten years or more, 2  and there is little to suggest that the current crisis in Syria will fall outside this trend. As the situation inside Syria continues to deteriorate, there is no foreseeable prospect for the safe return of refugees. At the same time, the main refugee-hosting countries  –  Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan  –  are all facing enormous and diverse economic and social challenges as a consequence of the crisis. These challenges range from localized demographic shifts to pressure on infrastructure, public services and labour markets. The scale and duration of the crisis mean that emergency humanitarian responses, while as necessary as ever, are no longer enough. Humanitarian aid must now be complemented by more sustainable approaches to help refugees and host communities cope in the medium and longer terms. Over the past year, the governments of Syria‘s neighbours, in cooperation with international aid agencies and donors, have increasingly recognized this reality. Together, they have developed a so- called ‗resilience agenda‘ 3  to help refugee-hosting countries deal with the huge weight associated with supporting refugees from Syria. But for the refugees themselves, increased vulnerability, not resilience, is the norm. More and more refugees are being pushed to make desperate choices. Children are forced to leave school and work illegally, girls are forced into marriage before their time, and many have little option but to risk their lives on dangerous boat journeys in the hope of reaching Europe, or even to return to Syria. This briefing highlights the pressing needs faced by refugees and host communities and describes the possible pathways towards a new approach by Syria‘s neighbours and the international community. This approach would offer hope, safety and dignity to the millions who have fled Syria, and a chance to contribute to the societies and economies of their host countries by offering them greater social and economic opportunities as refugees. Such an approach entails host countries addressing the legal and policy barriers that prevent refugees from building a dignified existence in their temporary displacement. It pays special attention to the issues of legal stay in their host countries and their ability to support themselves and their families better and to access services. For its part, the international community must recognize that refugee-hosting states cannot and should not take these necessary steps on their own. This presumes a commitment to providing stable and predictable long-term funding and investment in building the technical capacity of host countries to manage the displacement and its consequences.  3 The alternative future is one of missed opportunities, not only for millions of refugees from Syria, but also for neighbouring countries to leverage the positive contributions that these refugees can make. To address the challenges facing refugees and the countries that received them, s even  organizations call on international donors and refugee-hosting governments to work together on five different areas: ã Ensuring the ‘resilience agenda’ benefits the most vulnerable . The resilienceagenda should include and benefit all those affected by displacement  –  includingrefugees and vulnerable members of host communities. ã Enabling refugees from Syria to reside in neighbouring countries legallywithout discrimination . Procedures to maintain valid documentation andregistration must be clear, accessible, and affordable. ã Allowing refugees from Syria to access basic services , including adequate andaffordable education, medical care and housing, without compromising the qualityof public services for host communities. This means significant new investment innational institutions and infrastructure to boost service delivery. ã Supporting refugees to be more self-reliant  through greater livelihoodsopportunities, without negatively affecting the economies of host communities.Donors and host governments should work together to unlock the potentialeconomic contribution that refugees can make to meet their basic needs, while alsobenefiting the countries where they temporarily reside . ã Ensuring countries neighbouring Syria receive adequate support to changepolicies and practices to allow refugees and the communities hosting them to copebetter; pending a political solution to the conflict in Syria and options for the safereturn of refugees or resettlement or other forms of admission to third countries. Bilal Muhammad Sukhi from Ghouta in   Syria and Basel Yousef Abo Alsil from Deraa sort waste in an Oxfam recycling centre in Za‘atari refugee camp in Jordan (September 2015). Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam    4 1 INTRODUCTION The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) defines ‗resilience‘ as a ‗ transformative process of strengthening the capacity of people, communities and countries to anticipate, manage, transform and recover from shocks ‘ . 4  As the communities hosting refugees from Syria have come under increasing strain, building their resilience and those of national governments has been rightly recognized as an international priority. The UN, aid agencies and governments have documented extensively the enormous impact of hosting millions of refugees on the national economies, public services and infrastructure of countries neighbouring Syria. 5  However, for many displaced Syrians, their ability to cope  –  their ‗ resilience ‘    –  is actually being undermined, forcing them to make impossible choices about their futures. In August 2015 close to 4,000 refugees returned to war-torn Syria from Jordan; about twice as many as the previous month. 6  This figure steadied in September, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). 7  In Lebanon, UNHCR estimates that in recent months 6,000  – 7,000 refugees from Syria have been departing from Tripoli‘s port to Turkey on a weekly basis, some of whom have been displaced in Lebanon for some time, while many others are simply in transit from Syria. 8   The barriers to refugees‘ resilience are mu ltifaceted and vary across the region, but they all share two key interlinked elements: ã National legislation and policies in some of the countries neighbouring Syria makesit increasingly difficult for Syrians to live in those countries legally and significantlyimpedes refugees ‘  access to assistance and public services. ã It is often impossible to meet basic needs because most refugees have by nowdepleted their savings and sold their srcinal assets, and there are very few legalways to earn an income. LEGAL STAY: A FUNDAMENTAL BUILDING BLOCK OF RESILIENCE More than ever, refugees from Syria face immense hurdles when they seek to live legally in countries neighbouring Syria. New regulations applied by some of the host countries have made it increasingly difficult for refugees to renew their residency. As a result, across the region, refugees have been experiencing limited freedom of movement and shrinking access to assistance and livelihoods. 9   ã In Lebanon , driven by concerns of economic and political destabilization as a   result of a refugee caseload equal to a third of its population, the government has   adopted an official public policy to reduce the number of Syrian refugees on its   territory. 10  As of 5 January 2015, Lebanese borders have been effectively   closed   for most, if not all, civilians fleeing the war in Syria who wish to stay in Lebanon.   Those who are transiting to third countries can still do so with appropriate   documentation. In May 2015, UNHCR was asked by the government to cease   registration of any new refugees and to de-register those who entered the country   this year. Those already in Lebanon have become subject to new complex  and  costly regulations to renew residency visas. As a result, an   estimated 70 percent of Syrian refugees 11  in Lebanon d o not have valid legal stay
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