The Syrian refugee situation

Source: ICMC Europe, Welcome to Europe! A comprehensive guide to resettlement, 2013

To read the latest updates on the crisis in Syria, click here.

Over 2 years of civil conflict in Syria has forced hundreds of thousands of Syrians to flee to neighbouring countries. As of July 2013, 1,846,534 refugees were registered or awaiting registration in Lebanon (639,982), Jordan (505,347), Turkey (428,246), Iraq (159,792) and Egypt (99,167), with smaller numbers in other North African countries.

In Turkey, Syrian refugees who arrived after June 2011 are granted temporary protection and hosted in one of the 14 camps managed by the Turkish authorities in collaboration with the Turkish Red Crescent. Camp-based refugees have access to basic services and assistance. While Syrian refugees living in urban settings in Turkey have long been unable to register for assistance, the Turkish government recently launched an operation to register refugees in urban areas. Some 40,000 Syrian refugees in urban areas have since been registered under the new policy.

Lebanon has adopted a protection and humanitarian-oriented response to the Syrian arrivals, but the absence of a national legal or administrative framework for refugee protection leaves Syrian refugees vulnerable to arrest, detention and deportation. Most of the refugees live in urban areas.

In Jordan, Syrian refugees have become the largest refugee population in the country. Most of them live with host families or in collective centres in towns and rural areas. The smaller numbers of camp-based refugees can access basic services, including medical services, but living conditions in the camp are harsh. In urban areas, refugees can access medical services and enrol their children in the public school system, but high rental costs, increasing food prices and limited financial support have led to increasing levels of destitution. Additionally, host communities are becoming increasingly hostile toward Syrian refugees. In Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey refugees do not have the legal right to work, and those that find employment do so in the informal sector.

The current situation in Syria has also caused many refugees to move to neighbouring countries, thus becoming ‘twice displaced’.  An estimated half a million Palestinian refugees reside in Syria, with most living in ‘camps’ that are indistinguishable from urban neighbourhoods. Thousands were displaced when their residence areas were hit by heavy shelling, and many have since fled to Lebanon. Experts in the region are also warning that the Assad regime could potentially use Palestinian refugees as a tool to destabilise the Middle East by pushing them into Jordan or the Golan Heights. Approximately 8,000 non-Iraqi refugees are registered with UNHCR in Syria, the majority from Somalia, Afghanistan, Sudan and Yemen.

These refugees live mainly in Damascus and its suburbs, and due to the fact that they lack documentation and are visibly ‘foreign’, face significant protection risks during the current period of unrest and violence.

In August 2012, UNHCR appealed to countries to provide resettlement places for up to 500 non-Iraqi refugees in Syria and to consider resettling them on a dossier basis. The response from resettlement countries was limited, in part due to the lack of flexibility to provide emergency places within predefined annual resettlement quotas. In 2013, UNHCR issued a document setting out a strategy for enhancing the use of resettlement as a protection tool for Syrian refugees (including Palestinians who have lived in Syria under UNRWA’s protection). The strategy consists in two phases. The first phase consists in concerted efforts to make individual referrals based upon specific needs and vulnerabilities, while the second phase will consist in large-scale referrals if the protection situation in the region requires it. During the latter, the flexible pool for emergency places may be used as well as places secured under specific funding provided for emergency resettlement.

In March 2013, Germany agreed to grant humanitarian admission to some 5,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon who had fled ongoing violence in the country. It is envisaged that the first of these will arrive in Germany during 2013. Humanitarian admission is substantially different from resettlement in that it grants a 2-year temporary status (with possibility of extension) to those arriving, with the expectation that they will return to Syria when the conflict there has been resolved. 1,000 places will be allocated to the German embassies’ contingent while the remaining 4,000 will be divided among the following 3 criteria:

  • Family members (1,300) who registered in Lebanon at UNHCR or Caritas and who have requested resettlement before March 31st, 2013. UNHCR Germany will send the data collected through webforms to UNHCR Lebanon for verification. As needs are far greater than the available places, places may be allocated based on lottery;
  • Humanitarian reasons (those particularly in need of protection, mothers with children, orphans and religious minorities); and
  • Persons with a particular potential to assist in the (post-conflict) reconstruction of Syrian society.

At the time of writing, UNHCR is developing a strategy to enhance the use of resettlement for vulnerable Syrian refugees from Jordan and Lebanon that will aim to address the resettlement needs of women and children at risk, medical cases, survivors of violence and torture and refugees with family links abroad.

Photo 1: Syrian refugees in Iraq. © UNHCR/N.Daoud

Photo 2: Group of Syrian refugees cross into Jordan. © UNHCR/N.Daoud 2012