Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Syria: As Syrians continue to flee, UN urges European Union to uphold asylum principles

A Syrian mother and with her son, who are refugees in Lebanon. Photo: UNHCR/S. Malkawi

UN - 16 October 2012 – The United Nations today urged European Union (EU) member States to adhere to their asylum principles as the number of Syrians seeking refuge in these countries has started to grow.

“These include ensuring access to territory, access to asylum procedures, harmonized approaches to the adjudication of asylum claims and mutual support between member States,” the spokesperson for the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR), Adrian Edwards, told reporters in Geneva, citing the principles of the Common European Asylum System.

“There is an opportunity for the EU to put its commitment to solidarity into practice,” he said.

According to the European Commission, between January 2011 and August 2012, the EU, along with Norway and Switzerland, received 16,474 asylum applications from Syrians, with Germany, Sweden and Switzerland receiving the most requests.

Mr. Edwards said that while most countries are processing claims and granting protection to Syrians, the approaches to protection and the type of status and entitlements vary considerably.

“In some countries on the eastern border of the EU rejection rates are more than 50 per cent. In addition, some countries are more likely to give Syrians a tolerated stay rather than actual protection,” he said. “There is therefore a risk that people in need of protection will be denied the rights to which they are entitled under EU or international law and will be compelled to move on.”

More than 20,000 people, mostly civilians, have died in Syria since the uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad began some 20 months ago. A further 2.5 million Syrians urgently need humanitarian aid, according to UN estimates.

Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey currently host the overwhelming majority of Syrian refugees, with more than 340,000 Syrians registered or awaiting registration as refugees. However, UNHCR warned that as the crisis continues, contingency planning at the national and regional levels will be necessary to protect new arrivals to the EU.

“At EU level, there must also be readiness to consider applying the Temporary Protection Directive and other appropriate responses, if the conditions demand it. As always, it is important that the right to seek asylum is upheld at all times,” Mr. Edwards said.

The EU is among the largest contributors to the Syria Regional Response Plan, having contributed over $10 million to date. The Plan represents the combined planning of 52 UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to support Syrian refugees in the neighbouring countries. It was recently updated with an appeal figure of $487.9 million. However, it has only received 29 per cent of these funds.

During the same briefing, the World Food Programme (WFP) announced it reached 1.4 million Syrians during the September. The agency said it is now distributing food in the14 governorates in the country, but stressed that there are still areas no one can reach due to insecurity.

Where fighting is taking place, food prices have almost doubled and shortages of essential food items such as bread are common due to a lack of fuel to operate bakeries, the agency said.

“As UNHCR registration of refugees scales up, WFP is expanding the operation and is ready to provide food assistance to over 460,000 people by the end of the year in line with the humanitarian community’s revised Regional Response Plan,” said spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs.

WFP is also providing assistance to more than 120,000 refugees in neighbouring countries, providing food vouchers and in-kind food distributions, as well as hot meals, in refugee camps.

In Turkey, the agency launched a food electronic card programme in partnership with the Turkish Red Crescent to initially assist 25,000 Syrians. The programme provides an electronic card per family that is loaded with a monthly monetary amount sufficient to support a well-balanced diet of at least 2,100 calories per person per day.