Amnesty slams failing to protect Syrian refugees

Amnesty warns of ‘catastrophic consequences’ of failing to offer protection to Syrian refugees being ‘left out in the cold’

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Amnesty International warned Friday of the “catastrophic consequences” of failing to offer protection to Syrian refugees being “left out in the cold” a week after the World Food Program (WFP) said it was suspending aid to exhausted funding.

About 3.8 million Syrian refugees are currently scattered across five main host countries in the region, of which only 1.7 percent have been “offered sanctuary” by the rest of world since Syria’s civil war erupted in 2011, the Amnesty report said.

The report, “Left Out in the Cold: Syrian refugees abandoned by the international community,” said Syria’s most vulnerable refugees include unaccompanied children, alleged survivors of torture, and people with severe medical conditions.

“The shortfall in the number of resettlement places for refugees offered by the international community is truly shocking,” said Sherif Elsayed-Ali, Amnesty International’s Head of Refugee and Migrants’ Rights, in a statement.

“Nearly 380,000 people have been identified as in need of resettlement by the U.N. refugee agency, yet just a tiny fraction of these people have been offered sanctuary abroad,” he said.

The report follows the World Food Program’s announcement earlier this week that it was forced to suspend a food voucher program serving 1.7 million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries due to lack of funding from donors. The U.N. agency announced it needs $64 million to cover aid for December alone.

The WFP’s announcement “underscores the abysmal response of the international community,” added Elsayed-Ali.

Russia, China and Gulf states have “failed to pledge a single resettlement place” for Syrians, while the European Union (EU), with the exclusion of Germany, has only pledged to “resettle a paltry of 0.17 percent of refugees in the main host countries,” according to the report.

The five main host countries are Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt.

“The complete absence of resettlement pledges from the Gulf is particularly shameful. Linguistic and religious ties should place the Gulf states at the forefront of those offering safe shelter to refugees fleeing persecution and war crimes in Syria,” Elsayed said.

The international community’s failure to act has had “disastrous consequences” on the main host countries currently hosting at least 95 percent of Syria’s refugees, said the report.

Hosting a large number of refugees – 715 times the total number of Syrians who sought asylum in the EU and the resettlement places offered by the EU – Lebanon’s overall population has increased by 26 percent.

The threat ensued by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the terrorist group which controls large swathes in Iraq and Syria now, has further pushed Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan to impose “severe restrictions on the entry of refugees” exposing them to more risk.
Amnesty International’s report was released only a few days ahead of a U.N. pledging conference due to take place in Geneva on Dec. 9.

“Next week’s pledging conference must be used to turn the tide around. It is time for world governments to take the courageous steps needed to share the responsibility for this crisis and help avert further suffering,” Elsayed-Ali said.

“If a tiny country with a weak economy and huge debt like Lebanon can accommodate an increase of a quarter of its population others can certainly be doing more to help,” he said. “Countries cannot ease their consciences with cash pay-outs then simply wash their hands of the matter.”

“With no end in sight to the conflict in Syria and little prospect of refugees being able to return home in the near future, resettlement is essential to help the most vulnerable and ease the burden on host countries in the region,” he added.

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