Flatlining support for Syrians needs jolt at London conference

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Rich countries meeting in London this week must commit to real changes that will improve the lives of millions of Syrians, said Oxfam today. Aid funding and resettlement places offered so far were often so low as to be little more than token gestures. Syrians in need are waiting for actions not just kind words and promises.

While some world powers have led by example when it comes to assisting Syrians, who are still being killed, displaced, and impoverished by the hundreds of thousands, most still fall far short according to Oxfam’s new fair share analysis, published today. Just over half the money to fund the appeals designed to help people in Syria and surrounding countries was given in 2015.

The analysis calculates how much aid and resettlement places are given by countries according to the size of their economy. Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK continue to give generously while major donors Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the US have contributed a smaller percentage of their fair share.

Australia, France and Russia have increased their direct involvement in the conflict but fail to fund the appeals as much as they should. Russia provided just 1 per cent of its fair share to the appeals linked to the crisis in 2015.

‘Look at Norway, Belgium, and Kuwait. They have given much more than their fair share in aid. How can France, Saudi Arabia, and Russia explain their shortfalls?’ said Andy Baker, who leads Oxfam’s response to the Syria Crisis.

‘In comparison, Syria’s small neighbours Lebanon and Jordan, which host nearly 2 million refugees, have spent the equivalent of 6,892 per cent and 5,628 per cent of their fair share in aid respectively. Our calculations of commitments rich countries need to make on aid and resettlement are the bare minimum, and they are repeatedly falling far short. The London conference has to be a turning point,’ Baker said, as donor countries prepare to meet on 4 February in the British capital to pledge support for Syria and its neighbours.

Despite the unprecedented wave of public sympathy that Syrians have witnessed in 2015 as thousands of people drowned off Europe’s coasts, rich countries’ leaders have not kept pace. European governments should ensure that refugees are afforded safe and legal routes, so that they do not have to take dangerous journeys which expose them to abuse. Refugees who wish to stay in neighbouring countries should be afforded opportunities to support themselves and live in safety. And most importantly, there needs to be greater protection of civilians in Syria and swift moves towards a resolution of the crisis.

‘With no prospect of returning home soon refugees are stuck between a rock and a hard place: receiving less aid, and unable to sustain themselves without the right to work or valid residency permits. They are forced into debt to pay rent and buy food, they reduce the numbers of daily meals, and they remove their children from school to send them to work. Refugees are becoming increasingly vulnerable. Participants in the conference can’t sit by and watch this happen,’ said Baker.

‘While Lebanon and Jordan should allow refugees easy access to legal residency, jobs, education and health, they also need support with long-term development plans if they are to prevent their own people from slipping into poverty’, he added.

Inside Syria, insufficient aid funding is only part of the problem. Help is not reaching millions of Syrians in need because of sieges, bureaucratic hurdles, lack of access to civilian populations, and, most of all, unrelenting violence.

In addition to sustained aid for Syrians, Oxfam calls for the resettlement or other forms of humanitarian admission in rich countries of 10 per cent of refugees registered in Syria’s neighbours by the end of 2016, the equivalent of around 460,000 people1 . These are Syrians who are at risk, vulnerable women and children, and people with disabilities and war wounds. Collectively, rich nations have so far offered places to 128,612 Syrians, only 28 per cent of the minimum they should.

Canada’s pledge to resettle more than 36,000 refugees by the end of 2016 means it is offering 238 per cent of its fair share in resettlement places. Germany and Norway have also consistently shown generosity in resettling refugees.

The British government, in contrast to its generosity with aid funding, has offered to resettle 20,000 refugees by 2020. If spread across the UK, that would mean each of its 69 cities receives around 60 refugees per year, hardly a massive influx. The US, France, Russia, Spain and the Netherlands also still desperately lag behind in resettling Syrians.

Notes to editors

The full fair share analysis for funding and resettlement pledges received to date is available here. Previous fair shares are available here for 2014 and here for 2015. A full explanation of how Oxfam calculates its fair share analysis is available online.

Examples from Lebanon and Jordan depicting the impact of insufficient aid on refugees are available here

Since the first international Syria conference in 2013, Oxfam’s calculation of rich countries fair share of aid has shown that only a handful of names always come on top, such as:

  • Germany: 156 per cent in 2013, 111 per cent in 2014, and 152 per cent in 2015
  • The Netherlands: 133 per cent in 2013, 114 per cent in 2014, and 246 per cent in 2015
  • Norway: 332 per cent in 2013, 254 per cent in 2014, 385 per cent in 2015

Other countries have consistently not contributed nearly as much as they should:

  • Russia: 3 per cent in 2013, 7 per cent in 2014, and 1 per cent in 2015.
  • France: 69 per cent in 2013, 57 per cent in 2014, and 45 per cent in 2015.
  • Japan: 37 per cent in 2013, 29 per cent in 2014, and 24 per cent in 2015 .

A third group has actually decreased funding significantly:

  • Saudi Arabia: 282 per cent in 2013, 108 per cent in 2014, and 28 per cent in 2015.
  • Qatar: 309 per cent in 2013, 358 per cent in 2014, and 18 per cent in 2015.
  • Australia: 98 per cent in 2013, 28 per cent in 2014, and 37 per cent in 2015

Resettlement is an option whereby a third county (i.e. not the one the refugee has fled from, or the country of first asylum or habitual residence) offers refugee status in its territory to an individual. For example, this could mean a refugee from Syria living in Jordan being offered status, and related reception and integration support, in the United States of America.

Humanitarian admission programmes are similar, but normally involve expedited processing, and may provide either permanent or temporary stay depending on the legislation or policy of the state offering this option.

Other forms of admission could include allowing Syrian refugees legal access to third countries by relaxing requirements for entry visas to work and study, not necessarily based upon their vulnerabilities.

Asylum: Civilians facing persecution or other risks resulting from armed conflict or massive violations of human rights have a right to flee to safety across international borders and request asylum in another country. States have specific obligations towards asylum seekers under international law, particularly the obligation not to forcibly return them to harm.

Relocation refers to the transfer of asylum-seekers from one European Union (EU) Member State to another. It is an intra-EU process, in which Member States agree to process some of the caseload of States who are receiving a large number of asylum-seekers on their territory.

(1) This is roughly equivalent to the number of refugees which UNHCR has identified as particularly vulnerable and in need of resettlement.