Six years since the demonstrations that triggered the descent into a brutal civil war, millions of Syrians are bearing the brunt of increasingly restrictive policies around the world and inside Syria to stop them reaching safety, Oxfam warned today.
Amongst the most vulnerable Syrians are the approximately 78,000 people trapped along Syria’s sealed borders with Jordan, the hundreds of thousands more prevented from entering Turkey, and over 640,000 people struggling to survive under military sieges around Syria, imposed by the Government of Syria and its allies, armed opposition groups and ISIS fighters.
Oxfam Australia’s Chief Executive Dr Helen Szoke said a new international consensus was emerging to stop Syrians fleeing violence, rather than stopping the violence that is causing them to flee.
“Those who have fled Syria are seeing doors slammed in their faces as rich countries across the world enact policies hostile towards refugees. Since the end of January 2017, the United States and European Union member states, including the United Kingdom have changed, suspended or cancelled policies that could have seen tens of thousands of refugees offered a safe haven,” Dr Szoke said.
“For example, US President Donald Trump recently issued a new Executive Order that completely halts the country’s refugee resettlement program for 120 days.
“This global attitudinal change sees Syrian civilians in the firing line and living under crippling military sieges, vulnerable refugees left with no resettlement options, and attempts to return Syrians to a conflict zone.”
Australia, in contrast, should fulfill its 2015 commitment to resettle an additional 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the next few months and will provide $220 million in aid over the next three years, which will provide much needed assistance to people in need in Syria and the millions of Syrians sheltering in neighbouring countries.
“The Australian Government can continue to play a constructive role in helping to find solutions to the Syrian and global refugee crisis by committing to increasing Australia’s overall humanitarian intake from 13,750 this year to 42,000 by 2020-21. This is a reasonable ask based on Australia’s economy, population and the increasing numbers of people seeking refuge across the globe,” Dr Szoke said.
“The Australian Government must also move quickly to resettle all of the 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees it agreed to take in and continue to provide humanitarian funding to countries hosting large refugee populations such as Jordan, Lebanon and others.”
Inside Syria, civilians in besieged areas are under a tightening grip. Like in Aleppo at the end of last year, when territory is taken by the Syrian government and their allies, civilians are given the choice of evacuation – often to unsafe areas and where they face threats en route – or to remain in the area and accept rule by the Syrian Government. This comes with considerable risks for those who the government perceives as being part of the opposition. Civilian humanitarian workers who have helped their communities in the last years of war are often particularly at risk of reprisals.
“The international community must listen to Syrians affected by the crisis – including those forced to flee across borders and those within Syria, as well as the local humanitarian organisations that have helped them through this tragedy,” Dr Szoke said. “Until there is a sustainable peace in Syria, all members of the international community have a duty to offer a safe haven to those fleeing the violence and repression.”
Donate to the Oxfam’s Syria Crisis response at oxfam.org.au/Syria or by calling 1800 034 034.
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Note to Editors:
US President Donald Trump recently issued a new Executive Order that completely halts the country’s refugee resettlement program for 120 days. This unprecedented action poses a real threat to the lives of Syrians and other refugees who, given the multiple, overlapping and time-sensitive medical and security screenings imposed by the process, effectively have only a two month window to travel before checks begin to expire. Oxfam called this “another attempt to slam the door on thousands of vulnerable refugees who desperately need help”.
In Europe, on the anniversary of the first Syria protests on Wednesday 15 March, the EU will lift a suspension on the return of refugees to Greece under the Dublin Regulation, meaning refugees who enter into Greece after this date and travel across Europe are at risk of being returned to Greece to process their asylum claims. This is despite the European Commission’s own admission that their policies are putting the Greek asylum system under massive strain and leaving people in appalling conditions. The date also coincides with one year on from the EU-Turkey deal, which has caused huge suffering to many people – including many Syrians – who are trying to enter Europe to reach safety and the chance of a better life. The EU-Turkey deal has left many people in overcrowded and appalling conditions on Greek islands, as Europe attempts to return people to Turkey to avoid having to process asylum claims on its shores.
The UK government announced in February that it would cease to accept unaccompanied refugee children from Europe under an amendment to its immigration law passed last year.