Wealthy nations have agreed to receive more Syrian refugees in the coming months after countries neighbouring conflict-torn Syria admitted they were struggling to cope with the numbers crossing their borders.
The UN refugee agency said on Tuesday that Western governments had heeded a call to take in more Syrian refugees from neighbouring countries and estimated that, in all, more than 100,000 places would be offered in the coming months.
UNHCR, which wants to resettle 130,000 Syrians outside the region by the end of 2016, said the figure includes 62,000 places that have already been pledged by countries such as Germany and Sweden.
The outcome was criticised by aid agency Oxfam, which said Western states could have done more.
Since anti-government protests in 2011 spiralled into civil war, more than 3.2 million Syrians have registered as refugees in the region, with neighbours such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey bearing the brunt of the emergency.
Faced with overwhelming numbers, Syria’s neighbours have started restricting access to people fleeing the conflict.
“Today 28 countries expressed their solidarity with the Syrian refugees but also with the five neighboring countries hosting that are hosting them – Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt – offering what we estimate will be more than 100,000 opportunities for resettlement and humanitarian admission,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told reporters.
He was speaking at the end of a ministerial-level pledging conference in Geneva where senior officials from Syria’s neighbours detailed the financial toll hosting millions of Syrians was taking on their economies, appealing for more humanitarian aid and countries to accept more refugees.
Highlighting the struggles host communities face accommodating millions of Syrians – fewer jobs, lower wages, strained infrastructure, pressure on water, electricity, education and health services, Guterres said: “I have to say the world has a debt of gratitude to the neighbouring countries that it probably never be able to fully pay and fully express.”
With almost half Syria’s population either uprooted from their homes inside the country or refugees abroad, there will be a need for resettlement for years to come.
“We consider that one tenth of the Syrian refugees in the region should be resettled,” Guterres said.
These include the most vulnerable such as survivors of torture, people with acute medical needs and women left alone with several children to care for.
Since 2013, Germany has pledged to take in 30,000 Syrians, Australia 5,600, Sweden 1,200 and Norway 1,000.
But many aid agencies including Oxfam, Refugee Council and Save the Children say wealthy nations should agree to take at least 5 per cent of all Syrian refugees by the end of 2015.
“Governments meeting in Geneva today had the opportunity to transform the lives of some of Syria’s most vulnerable refugees – an opportunity they largely failed to take,” said Andy Baker, head of Oxfam’s response to the Syria crisis, in a statement.
“While it is encouraging to see increased commitments to provide resettlement or humanitarian admission to refugees by a number of countries … many of those desperately in need of a lifeline will have to remain in the region, amid worsening conditions.”
UNHCR said the places pledged on Tuesday come from resettlement and other humanitarian admission schemes, such as humanitarian visas, private sponsorship, family reunification, scholarships, medical evacuation and labour mobility programmes.
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