Oxfam: Six years on and no escape for Syrians seeking safety

Oxfam: Six years on and no escape for Syrians seeking safety

'Doors slammed in their faces' as countries enact more hostile policies

6th Syria anniversary coincides with lifting by EU on suspension on return of refugees to Greece

Monday 13 March 2017

Ahead of the six year anniversary on Wednesday [March 15th] since the demonstrations that triggered the descent into a brutal civil war, Oxfam has warned that millions of Syrians are bearing the brunt of increasingly restrictive policies around the world and inside Syria to stop them reaching safety.

13.5 million men, women and children are in urgent need of humanitarian and protection assistance in Syria. Nearly 700,000 are trapped in besieged areas, where it is either impossible or extremely difficult to provide humanitarian aid. Amongst the most vulnerable are the approximately 78,000 people trapped along Syria’s sealed borders with Jordan, the hundreds of thousands more prevented from entering Turkey, and over 640,000 people struggling to survive under military sieges in Syria, imposed by the Government of Syria and its allies, armed opposition groups and ISIS.

Over half of the country’s population has fled: 4.9 million people have sought refuge in the region and beyond, and 6.3 million people are internally displaced, in most cases multiple times. To date, Oxfam has helped more than two million people across Syria, Jordan and Lebanon to access humanitarian assistance like clean water, cash and legal aid.

Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive, said: “The crisis is now entering its seventh year, with all sides to the conflict targeting civilians and deliberately cutting off people’s access to vital services such as water, food, medical supplies and electricity.

“Syria is not a safe country for refugees to return to yet a new international consensus is emerging to stop Syrians fleeing violence, rather than stopping the violence that is causing them to flee. The result is civilians in the firing line and under crippling military siege, vulnerable refugees left with no resettlement options, and attempts to return Syrians to a conflict zone.”

Those who have fled Syria are seeing doors slammed in their faces as rich countries across the world enact policies hostile towards refugees. Since the end of January 2017, the United States, European Union member states, including the United Kingdom, have changed, suspended or cancelled policies that could have seen tens of thousands of refugees offered a safe haven.

US President Donald Trump recently issued a new Executive Order that completely halts the country’s refugee resettlement programme for 120 days. This unprecedented action poses a real threat to the lives of Syrians and other refugees who, given the multiple, overlapping and time-sensitive medical and security screenings imposed by the process, effectively have only a two month window to travel before checks begin to expire.

Mr Clarken said: “This new US Executive Order is yet another attempt to slam the door on thousands of vulnerable refugees who desperately need help. The drastically shrinking options for refugees makes it all the more important for the Irish and UK governments to play their part. Ireland can do so by speeding up the resettlement process, expanding the humanitarian visa programme, and increasing options for family reunification for some of the world’s most vulnerable people.”

On the anniversary of the first Syria protests on Wednesday (15 March), the EU will lift a suspension on the return of refugees to Greece under the Dublin Regulation, meaning refugees who enter into Greece after this date and travel across Europe are at risk of being returned to Greece to process their asylum claims. This is despite the European Commission’s own admission that their policies are putting the Greek asylum system under massive strain and leaving people in appalling conditions.

The date also coincides with one year on from the EU-Turkey deal, which has caused huge suffering to many people – including many Syrians – who are trying to enter Europe to reach safety and the chance of a better life. The EU-Turkey deal has left many people in overcrowded and appalling conditions on Greek islands, as Europe attempts to return people to Turkey to avoid having to process asylum claims on its shores.

The UK government announced in February that it would cease to accept unaccompanied refugee children from Europe under an amendment to its immigration law passed last year.

Inside Syria, civilians in besieged areas are under a tightening grip. Like in Aleppo at the end of last year, when territory is taken by the Syrian government and their allies, civilians are given the choice of evacuation – often to unsafe areas and where they face threats en route – or to remain in the area and accept rule by the Syrian government, with considerable risks for those who the government perceives as being part of the opposition. Civilian humanitarian workers who have helped their communities in the last years of war are often particularly at risk of reprisal.

Mr Clarken said: “The international community must listen to all those affected by the crisis – including those forced to flee across borders and those within Syria, as well as the local humanitarian organisations that have helped them through this tragedy. Until there is a sustainable peace in Syria, all members of the international community have a duty to offer a safe haven to those fleeing the violence and repression.”

ENDS

 

CONTACT: Oxfam has Syria emergency response spokespeople available for interview on the ground in the region, including staff in Lebanon and Jordan.

For interviews or more information, please contact

Belfast: Phillip Graham on 07841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org

Dublin: Alice Dawson on 083 198 1869 / alice.dawson@oxfamireland.org

Notes to the Editor:

·         Oxfam is providing clean water to conflict affected populations in Syria through the rehabilitation of water infrastructure, water trucking and repairing of wells. It is working in Lebanon and Jordan to bring Syrian refugees clean drinking water, cash and relief supplies. Oxfam also helps families get the information they need about their rights and connects them to special services such as legal aid, as well as implementing programmes in sanitation and livelihoods. It has so far helped more than two million people across Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. 

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