People fleeing Syria must be granted access when they arrive on borders of EU states
Facility for resettlement needed to take huge pressure off neighbouring states
A Syrian child gathers water in the Za’atari refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan. Record numbers of refugees are fleeing the violence and bombings in Syria to cross the borders to safety in northern Jordan and overwhelming the camp. Photograph: Getty Images
The crisis in Syria is getting worse every day. Over 1.6 million people have fled to neighbouring countries, and more than 4 million are displaced within Syria. That is more than the entire population of Ireland, forced to leave their homes by brutal conflict.
These figures, while staggering, don’t capture the horrific suffering of women, men and children caught up in the death and destruction inside Syria. There are increasing reports of girls and boys being deliberately targeted, abused, raped and killed. Women recount chilling stories of sexual violence indicating that rape is being used as a weapon of war. Millions lack basic essentials such as food, water and medicine.
In the face of such horror, it is deeply distressing that there continues to be no political solution – the only way to bring peace – in sight. Humanitarian assistance cannot be the solution to the crisis in Syria. But as the fighting rages on, organisations like mine must continue doing everything we can to relieve the worst of the suffering and assist those in dire need.
To deliver relief, humanitarian agencies and the countries on Syria’s borders need more international support. Together with more than 80 partner organisations, the UN has recently issued the biggest humanitarian appeal in its history, seeking over four billion dollars to help Syrians inside and outside the country. Many states, including Ireland, a long-standing supporter of UNHCR, have provided much-needed funding. But as the needs continue to grow, it is painfully clear that donors’ traditional aid budgets will not be sufficient, and exceptional funding will be needed to respond to this exceptional crisis.
In addition to funding, there are practical measures all European Union member states can take to provide access to protection for people fleeing Syria. At the invitation of Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, I came to Dublin earlier this year to outline what is needed to the justice and home affairs ministers of the EU.
First, people fleeing Syria must be granted access when they approach the borders of EU states. Most EU states are doing this already, but more must be done to ensure Syrians asking for protection are allowed to seek safety wherever they arrive. Second, access to fair asylum procedures must be provided. Many Syrians will meet the criteria for refugee status or international protection and should be recognised as refugees as quickly as possible. However, practice is wildly divergent across the EU, with some states recognising no Syrians and others recognising almost all Syrians as refugees. The overall refugee recognition rate in Ireland has risen from a very low base in 2010, and I welcome that of the small number of Syrians seeking protection in Ireland, over 80 per cent have been recognised as refugees.
Third, more needs to be done to bring together family members affected by the crisis. This means speeding up the processing of applications for family reunification and providing visas to Syrians to allow them to join family members lawfully resident in the EU. It also means states should be pro-active in reunifying family members who have become scattered across EU states in their search for asylum. The discretion to do just this is afforded to EU states under existing regulations.