EU failing Syria refugees, says Amnesty International report

The BBC's Jim Muir on the plight of refugees living in squalid conditions

European leaders should be ashamed by the paltry numbers of refugees from Syria they are prepared to resettle, human rights group Amnesty says.

Only 10 member states have offered to take in refugees and even then only 12,000, it complains. The UK and Italy have offered no places at all, it adds.

But the UK government says it is focusing on the region and is one of the biggest international donors.

European Union aid has reached 1.3bn euros (£1.1bn; $1.7bn), officials say.

The bloc says its priority is providing help to Syria's internally displaced people, now thought to number 6.5 million, and those hosted in other countries.

The UN estimates almost 2.3 million Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries since March 2011.

Where Syrian refugees are

  • 838,000 in Lebanon
  • 567,000 in Jordan
  • 540,000 in Turkey
  • 207,000 in Iraq
  • 129,000 in Egypt
  • 6.5 million others displaced inside Syria

(Source: UNHCR)

Most Syrians who have fled their country have travelled to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq. But some 6,000 this year have reached EU member state Bulgaria, which has appealed for financial help from Brussels in responding to the influx.

In September, Sweden became the first EU member state to offer Syrian refugees permanent residence. More than 14,000 Syrians have sought asylum there in the past two years.

Germany has resettled 1,000 refugees and plans to admit another 9,000.

The UK says it has no plans to resettle or provide temporary protection to Syrian refugees, although individual asylum claims are considered on their merits.

"Instead, we are giving as much help as possible to people in the region. Our £500m pledged so far is more than the other EU member states combined," a spokesman told the BBC.

'Miserably failed'

Earlier this month, the EU put forward plans to do more to stop migrants dying in the Mediterranean, after more than 350 people lost their lives in a shipwreck off the Italian island of Lampedusa in October.

One of the proposals involved member states making available a number of planes to enable the EU to resettle thousands more people from refugee camps.

The UN has urged Western countries to take in up to 30,000 Syrians by the end of 2014.

A lump sum payment of 6,000 euros would be paid to member states for each resettled refugee from the UN refugee agency's list, the Commission proposes.

EU leaders will consider the package on 19 December.

Amnesty International says the EU has "miserably failed" to provide a safe haven to Syrians, noting that 55,000 so far have been able to claim asylum. Ten countries have promised to allow in 12,000 people, it says, with 80% of the total pledges from Germany. France has offered 500 places and Spain 30, it says.

The human rights group's report also criticises "push-back" operations aimed at halting Syrians travelling from Turkey, noting that the European Commission has provided 228m euros to bolster controls.

The harsh conditions faced by Syrian refugees have been highlighted this week with the first winter snowfalls in the Bekaa valley of northern Lebanon, where tens of thousands of Syrians are sheltering in tents.

A total of 838,000 Syrians have fled to Lebanon, living either in tented camps, unused buildings or with friends and family.

The bitterly cold weather has also halted a UN airlift of food and other humanitarian supplies from Iraq to Kurdish areas inside north-eastern Syria.

Twelve planeloads of supplies are due to be flown in, ahead of what the UN fears will be the region's harshest winter in a century.

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