Middle East

Syria conflict: 'Global failure' to protect refugees

A migrant woman hugs her son after safely arriving to the shores of the Greek island of Kos on 18 August 2015 Image copyright AFP
Image caption The inquiry says 2,000 Syrians trying to reach Europe have drowned in the Mediterranean

A UN inquiry into the conflict in Syria has criticised the "global failure" to protect the country's refugees, saying it has fuelled Europe's migrant crisis.

Chairman Paulo Sergio Pinheiro urged the international community to act with "humanity and compassion" by creating legal channels of migration.

The inquiry's latest report says 2,000 Syrians trying to reach Europe have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea.

And the Syrian war, it warns, continues to intensify with no end in sight.

More than 240,000 people have been killed since an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad erupted in March 2011.

A further four million Syrians have fled abroad and 7.6 million are displaced internally.

Protection space 'shrinking'

The Commission of Inquiry on Syria was established by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate alleged violations of international human rights law.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The conflict is "increasingly driven by international and regional powers", investigators found
Image copyright AFP
Image caption The government's indiscriminate bombardment of residential areas has meanwhile continued

The report published on Thursday covers events from January to June 2015 and concludes that the violence in Syria is "endemic" and "regrettably proliferating in its scope and extent".

"None of the belligerents seem either close to collapse or positioned to secure an outright military triumph," it says. "All have secured sufficient support channels, territorial gains and operational capabilities to sustain them for several more years."

The report says the conflict is "increasingly driven by international and regional powers, primarily in accordance with their respective geostrategic interests", without identifying them.

Syrian refugees in the region

"The competition among regional powers for influence has resulted, among other consequences, in an alarming exacerbation of the sectarian dimension, instigated by the intervention of foreign fighters and extremist clerics," the report warns.

Investigators found jihadist militants from Islamic State (IS) committed "murder, torture, rape, sexual slavery, sexual violence, forcible displacement and other inhumane acts as part of a widespread attack on the civilian population".

Al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda's local affiliate, was also "imposing its extremist ideology" in areas it captured in Idlib province earlier this year, the report says.

The Syrian government meanwhile continued its indiscriminate aerial bombardment of residential areas across the country, leading to widespread civilian casualties.

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Image caption European countries are struggling to respond to the surge in the number of migrants

The report warns that "the protection space for Syrians trying to escape the conflict is steadily shrinking".

As a consequence, it says, many are placing their lives in the hands of smugglers and traffickers, attempting perilous journeys in unseaworthy boats across the Mediterranean, resulting in the deaths of more than 2,000 in four years.

"The global failure to protect Syrian refugees is now translating into a crisis in Southern Europe. The responsibility for the protection of the human rights of these refugees is not being adequately shared or shouldered."

Mr Pinheiro told a news conference in Geneva that 250,000 had sought refuge in Europe, compared with four million in countries neighbouring Syria.

"It is imperative for the world community to act with humanity and compassion by developing legal channels of migration that increases the protection space for asylum seekers and refugees," he warned.