We call on the UK government to:
• Expand the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme
Announced in January 2014 as a special programme for Syrians, the scheme had admitted as few as 143 refugees up to February of this year. Elsewhere in Europe, Norway has pledged to resettle 2,500 Syrian refugees, Sweden has pledged to resettle 2,700, and Germany has pledged to resettle 30,000. Britain can do better.
• Contribute to expanding Operation Triton for Mediterranean rescue
The UK needs to join Operation Triton, the European patrol force for the Mediterranean, so that it can be expanded and its role shifted from border control and surveillance to saving migrants’ lives. The UN recorded the deaths of at least 3,419 people trying to flee across the Mediterranean last year. Over 370 have already died this year. António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, has said “Europe must step up its capacity to save lives” or “thousands more, including many, many Syrians, will perish.”
• Work with the EU to allow safe routes for Syrians entering Europe
The Dublin Regulation, under which asylum seekers must seek asylum in the first country they enter, puts an excessive burden on first port of entry states, and creates extra burdens for refugees as they are arbitrarily restricted in their choice of asylum and unable to move to locations where they may have family, friends or relevant language skills. The Dublin rules have outlived their usefulness, and need review in light of the unprecedented numbers fleeing Syria in what is the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.
Safe routes measures should include such things as speedy processing of visas for family members, students, and other non asylum routes; opening the embassies to applications for asylum; an EU wide declaration of emergency humanitarian access.
Lebanon Jordan and Turkey have been generous; now it is time that Europe played its part in hosting some of the millions of Syrian refugees. That can be accomplished only by Europe-wide planning and cooperation.
The causes of the refugee disaster
Many of Syria’s refugees have fled ISIS. Many more have fled regime violence. In particular, the regime’s campaigns of air and artillery bombardment against civilian neighbourhoods are clearly designed to drive people from their homes.
Angelina Jolie, special envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, wrote recently that “only an end to the war in Syria will begin to turn the tide on these problems. Without that, we are just tinkering at the edges.”
Aid cannot limit the violence. Diplomacy alone cannot end it, as multiple failures over these past years have shown. To turn the tide, we need a broader spectrum of options.
Over 3.8 million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries, and 217,000 in Europe.
Remarks by António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the UN Security Council, 26 February 2015.
By Priyanka Motaparthy, The Nation, 11 February 2015.
Amnesty International, 3 February 2015.
One Syrian refugee family’s warm welcome in Sweden shows what a difference richer countries can make by giving some of the world’s most vulnerable people a lifeline.