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March 13, 2015

As Syrian Conflict Enters Fifth Year, United States Should Increase Protection and Aid for Refugees

New York City – As this week marks the fourth anniversary of the conflict in Syria, Human Rights First urged the Obama Administration to champion protection, aid, and resettlement of Syrian refugees and to increase support of Syrian border states that bear the brunt of the refugee crisis.
 
“The conflict in Syria has created the largest refugee crisis since World War II. Yet, humanitarian aid and support for Syria’s border states has been woefully underfunded by the international community, putting tremendous strains on basic infrastructures like education, health, water, and housing,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “Syria’s neighbors are slamming their doors shut, closing escape routes and leaving many Syrians trapped. The United States should increase its support for front-line states through a more ambitious initiative to bring Syrian refugees to safety through resettlement and increased assistance. ”   
 
Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, approximately 12 million people – half of Syria’s population – have been forced to flee, many of them multiple times. Nearly 4 million of these refugees have escaped across borders into Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt. These states together are estimated to host about 95 percent of Syrian refugees. Since the start of the conflict four years ago, the United States has resettled only about 500 Syrian refugees; it aims to review for potential resettlement only 1000 cases per month.  
 
"So far, U.S. efforts to bring refugees to safety through resettlement have not even amounted to a drop in the bucket," noted Acer.
 
In recent months, Syria’s neighbors have closed or imposed barriers at their borders that often block refugees from fleeing the violence and terror in Syria. Turkey denies entry to refugees who arrive at border posts without valid travel documents. Jordan turns away Palestinians fleeing from Syria, single men, refugees fleeing from areas controlled by ISIL, and refugees who have traveled back to Syria – even to retrieve a family member who can’t travel alone. In January, Lebanon announced a formal decision to deny entry to Syrians unable to obtain visas. With visas limited to categories such as tourist, business, student, transit, short stay, and medical, and with no visa for “refugees,” the move effectively narrows one of the few remaining escape routes for Syrians.       
 
Human Rights First urges the U.S. government to champion protection at borders by making clear that it expects Syria’s neighbors to admit refugees, and by pledging to fully support these states through aid and resettlement. The organization notes that the United States should also monitor access to protection for refugees at borders and encourage Syria’s neighbors to provide full access to UNHCR to monitor all border areas, processing centers, and interviews with those fleeing Syria. The United States, already the leading donor to the humanitarian appeals for Syrian refugees, should also lead a global initiative to increase humanitarian assistance for refugees, development assistance for refugee-hosting communities, as well as bilateral aid for infrastructure challenges facing front-line states.
 
“Effectively addressing the Syrian displacement crisis is not only a humanitarian imperative, it is also a strategic necessity,” added Acer. “Greater support for Syrian refugees and the frontline states that host them will help preserve the fragile stability of key states in the region, including Jordan and Lebanon.”
 
For more information or to speak with Acer, contact Mary Elizabeth Margolis at [email protected] or 212-845-5269.