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March 19, 2014

Richard Should Address Syrian Refugee Protection, Resettlement with Turkish Leaders

Washington, D.C. – As Assistant Secretary of State Anne Richard meets with her Turkish counterparts this week in Ankara and Adana, Human Rights First urges her to raise the issue of barriers preventing some refugees of the Syrian conflict from crossing to safety in Turkey. During these meetings, Richard is likely to express appreciation for Turkey’s hosting large numbers of refugees, and she should re-commit the United States to significantly stepping up its resettlement initiatives.

“Assistant Secretary Richard should praise Turkey and other states in the region for hosting large numbers of refugees who have fled from Syria, while encouraging the Turkish government to keep its borders open for those who are desperately seeking refuge.” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “As the humanitarian disaster in Syria enters its fourth year, the need for U.S. leadership is growing more dire. To encourage other states to step up their commitment to providing protection for vulnerable Syrians, Richard should take steps to announce a significant resettlement program in the United States.”

The United States has indicated that it will resettle “several thousand” Syrian refugees, but so far has not yet announced a significant resettlement initiative for Syrian refugees. Human Rights First has urged the U.S. government to commit to resettling at least 15,000 refugees annually, a need that will increase as the crisis continues. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have expressed their support for increased resettlement of Syrian refugees and have highlighted America’s historic role as a beacon of hope for those fleeing oppression and persecution. In fiscal year 2013, the United States resettled only 36 Syrian refugees.

Over 2.5 million refugees have fled Syria and sought protection in other states, and this number is expected to increase as this crisis continues. 6.5 million Syrians are internally displaced. The states neighboring Syria – which include key allies like Jordan and Turkey, as well as Lebanon and Iraq – are struggling to address this challenge.

Human Rights First notes that Turkey is generously hosting many thousands of refugees, with at least 641,889 Syrian refugees registered with the U.N. Refugee Agency so far and others not yet registered. Since August 2012, Turkey has been limiting entry by Syrians without passports based on availability of space in one of the camps. This has resulted in 35 informal camps forming on the Syrian side of the border, with an estimated population of 77,700. These camps have at times been attacked by Syrian regime airstrikes, and most recently in January have been caught in the middle of intense battles between ISIS and other opposition groups.

In addition to those refugees living in camps, the refugees who often face the biggest challenges are those living in urban areas. Turkey has hundreds of thousands of refugees living outside camps, many of whom lack financial assistance and have little option but to live in unsanitary and hazardous conditions. The United States has led efforts to provide humanitarian assistance for Syrian refugees. The United States should also support Turkey with bilateral aid to assist with costs of hosting refugees, a cost Turkey has borne largely on its own thus far. In addition, the United States should increase – and encourage other nations to increase – support for host communities through development aid designed to boost infrastructure impacted by refugee, including medical care and education.

Human Rights First researchers recently visited Turkey, where they spoke with dozens of refugees, government officials, and U.N. and other aid workers. These interviews were compiled into a report with recommendations for the U.S. government, Refuge at Risk. For more information or to speak with Acer, contact Corinne Duffy at DuffyC@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3319.

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