Copenhagen, 20 June 2014 - On World Refugee Day, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) expresses its grave concern over the continued violations of the rights of refugees in the Euro-Mediterranean region and reluctance of States to abide by their international obligations.
The world's shameful response to the Syrian refugee crisis is but one example of how states continue to curtail their responsibilities towards those fleeing war and persecution. 9 million people have been displaced by the war and over 2.8 million refugees have fled to neighbouring countries where they live in precarious conditions, 70% of which are women and children. Amongst them are also Palestinian refugees who, in addition to being displaced by the war are also stateless, with dubious chances of any future return to a country where they have never been recognized as citizens. Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt have all been guilty of denying entry to groups of Palestinians.
North African states, largely unaffected by the conflict, have also imposed restrictions on the entry of refugees from Syria. Those who manage to reach these countries are "tolerated" but are not provided with much-needed support from national authorities. At the end of May, two families, including children, were stranded for over three weeks in a "no-man's land" between the Algerian and Moroccan border, neither country wanting to grant them entry. The EMHRN has already documented the precarious situation of migrants and refugees at this notorious border in its report, Maghnia: Crossing the uncrossable border.
Since the beginning of the conflict, approximately 81,000 people fleeing the Syrian war have been able to request asylum in EU countries. The increased difficulty for Syrians to obtain visas has forced thousands to turn to unscrupulous smugglers and risk their lives to reach safety. The danger they face is exacerbated by the criminal behaviour of European border police; at the Greek-Turkish border several organisations have found evidence of systemic and violent push-backs of refugees, including of families and children, which have in some cases also led to incidents and deaths at sea. Meanwhile, several "first countries of entry," such as Greece and Bulgaria, systematically detain refugees in deplorable conditions. These trends constitute a dismaying violation of international conventions that prohibit pushbacks, deportations and arbitrary detention of refugees.
In parallel, UNHCR's initial call for 30,000 refugees from Syria to be resettled in 2014 has only been met thanks to significant advocacy efforts, despite this amounting to barely 1% of the current Syrian refugee population. While Germany has recently announced that it will welcome an additional 10,000 refugees, the total number of resettlements or admissions pledged by European states - around 32 000 in total - remains shamefully low. Moreover, some European states have yet to select the refugees they pledged to resettle for 2014. This, over six months after pledges have been made and despite the gravity and urgency of the situation.
While the Syrian refugee crisis is one of the largest refugee crises in recent history, the situation of the region's other refugees fleeing war and persecution - for example Iraqis, Afghanis, Eritreans, and Ethiopians - should also not be forgotten. In the current context where resettlement is possible for less than 10% of the world's refugees, resettlement of refugees from Syria should be in addition to, and not instead of, existing annual resettlement quotas as has been the case in certain EU countries such as France and Ireland. Funding for refugees from Syria must not come at the expense of other refugee populations who face substantial abuses and violations of their rights as well as few prospects of long-term integration in their host countries.
In this context, the EMHRN reiterates its call to European, Middle Eastern and North African states to uphold their international obligations. Those fleeing war and persecution - whether in Syria or elsewhere - must be able to reach a place of safety, where their rights will be respected and where they have the opportunity to rebuild a life of dignity.
Read our position paper on refugees from Syria here (also available in French)