An International Failure: The Syrian Refugee Crisis – by Amnesty International

Article  •  Publié sur Souria Houria le 14 décembre 2013

« Syria has become the great tragedy of this century – a disgraceful humanitarian calamity

with suffering and displacement unparalleled in recent history.”

António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on Syria, 3 September 2013.1


In the space of 12 months, 1.8 million people fled the armed conflict in Syria. By September 2013

the terrible milestone of two million refugees had been reached as men, women and children

continued to pour out of the country. As of 9 December, the number stood at over 2.3 million

registered refugees,2 52 per cent of whom are children.3 In addition, at least 4.25 million people are

displaced inside the country.4 In total, more than 6.5 million people have been forced to leave their

homes in Syria, nearly a third of the country’s population.5 In July 2013, the United Nations High

Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that “We have not seen a refugee outflow escalate at such

a frightening rate since the Rwandan genocide almost 20 years ago”.6


Five countries neighbouring Syria – Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt – host 97% of the

refugees.7 In Jordan and Lebanon refugees from Syria have added 9 per cent and 19 per cent to the

countries’ populations, respectively.8


Despite the enormous scale of the refugee crisis, the international community has failed miserably to

support refugees from Syria or the main countries of refuge. The UN humanitarian appeal for

refugees from Syria in the region – which represents 68% of the Syria humanitarian appeal, the

largest such appeal in UN history9 – has remained less than 50% funded for most of 2013. At the

time of publishing it was only 64% funded.10


The provision of resettlement and humanitarian admission places11 – one of the principal means by

which the international community can show solidarity with countries hosting large number of

refugees and provide urgent safety and protection measures for the most vulnerable refugees –

remains extremely limited. UNHCR has set a goal of securing 30,000 places for Syrian refugees on

resettlement, humanitarian admission, or other forms of admission from 2013 to the end of 2014.12

While UNHCR continues to receive pledges from countries in order to meet this goal, only 15,244

places for temporary or permanent relocation of refugees from Syria have been pledged so far.13

These pledges were made by fourteen countries in Europe (10 European Union (EU) countries and

four non-EU countries), Australia and Canada.14 The US – which has the largest annual resettlement

programme of any county by a wide margin – may offer additional places.15


Out of the 15,244 places offered by Europe, Australia and Canada, the EU, whose nearest capital is

only 200 miles from Damascus,16 has pledged a total of 12,340. 17 This represents just 0.54 per

cent of the total number of refugees from Syria. It is roughly the number of refugees registered in

Lebanon in the last five days of November.18


Among the places offered by EU countries, the vast majority – 10,000 places – were offered by

Germany, in the form of a humanitarian admission programme. Excluding Germany, the remaining

27 EU countries have pledged a mere 2,340 places. Eighteen EU Member States, including the UK

and Italy, have not made any resettlement or humanitarian admission pledges.



It is not just the EU that is failing to make resettlement places available. Countries of the Gulf

Cooperation Council (GCC) have not offered any resettlement or humanitarian admission places to

refugees from Syria.


Some of the governments that have been the most prominent supporters of military action in Syria

have also been the least forthcoming when it comes to making resettlement places available to

refugees from Syria. The UK, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have not offered to take any refugees from

Syria. France offered to take 500 refugees, or 0.02% of those in the main host countries.


Amnesty International is calling on the international community to ensure there is adequate and

sustained funding for humanitarian appeals for Syria, and to support the main host countries to

enable them to keep their borders open and provide adequate protection and assistance to refugees.


Amnesty International is also calling for an urgent and significant increase in the number of places

available for resettlement and humanitarian admission to refugees from Syria, over and above

existing resettlement quotas.


Furthermore, the organization calls on all states to keep their borders open to those fleeing the

conflict in Syria – as well as to other refugees – and to ensure that those trying to reach their borders

are treated with dignity.


Focus of this briefing and methodology

This briefing provides an overview of the conditions of refugees from Syria in the main host countries:

Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.19 It then focuses on the difficulties and human rights

violations faced by refugees from Syria in their attempts to reach the EU and makes

recommendations to the international community and EU Member States in particular.


While Amnesty International’s calls for international solidarity in dealing with the Syria refuge crisis

go beyond the EU, this briefing focuses on practices in some EU countries as well as the

resettlement contribution of EU member states because of the block’s proximity to Syria and the fact

that many refugees from Syria are trying to reach the EU.


Thousands of people who have fled horrors in Syria have tried to reach the EU – often because they

have faced further hardships in the country to which they fled, or because they are trying to reach

family and friends and the hope of safety. In their desperation they have taken terrible risks – risks

that the policies of the EU and its Member States have created or exacerbated.


The information in the briefing is based on desk and field research conducted by Amnesty

International. Since July 2013, the organization has conducted field research missions looking at

the situation of refugees in, among others, Bulgaria, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Jordan, the Kurdistan

region of Iraq, Lebanon, Libya and Turkey.


Data about the number of refugees in the main host countries and in EU countries is taken from

publicly available information provided by UNHCR and Eurostat, the statistical office of European

Union. Data about resettlement pledges and humanitarian appeal funding is taken from publicly

available information provided by UNHCR and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of

Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).


The figure for the number of refugees in the main host countries (Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and

Egypt) used in this briefing is 2.2 million.20 The figure used for the total number of refugees from

Syria globally is 2.3 million.21 However, this is only the number of those who have registered. The

actual number of refugees from Syria is believed to be significantly higher, as hundreds of thousands

are believed not to have registered with an asylum authority.




Background to the Syrian refugee crisis

The two-year conflict between the Syrian government and armed opposition groups has left

more than 100,000 people dead22 and hundreds of thousands of civilians injured.23 The

conflict has also caused massive destruction of civilian property and the displacement of at

least 4.25 million people internally.24 More than 2.3 million people have fled the country.


The influx of refugees in Syria’s neighbouring countries has put an immense strain on the

limited resources available in those countries, particularly in Jordan and Lebanon, where many

refugees are living in precarious conditions in overcrowded refugee camps or in host

communities, including in informal settlements.


In order to provide adequate protection and humanitarian assistance to refugees from Syria

and those in need within Syria, in July the UN made the largest humanitarian appeal in its

history, calling for around $3 billion in assistance to UN agencies and NGOs working with

refugees, $830 million for the governments of Lebanon and Jordan and $1.4 billion for people

inside Syria.25 Only 64% of the $3billion had been committed as of 6 December 2013.26 In

September, the UN warned that funding shortfalls could result in a cutback in aid to



Due to the nature of the conflict in Syria, which includes widespread human rights violations, war crimes, and crimes

against humanity being perpetrated, Amnesty International considers that all asylum-seekers from Syria should be

considered to be in need of international protection. This is in line with UNHCR’s statement on 22 October 2013 that

“most Syrians seeking international protection are likely to fulfil the requirements of the refugee definition contained

in Article 1A(2) of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, since they will have a well-founded fear of

persecution linked to one of the Convention grounds.”28

Forcing anyone to return to Syria would amount to a violation of the principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits the

forcible return of anyone to a country where they risk serious human rights abuses. The principle of non-refoulement

applies to situations of generalised violence due to armed conflict, such as in the case of Syria, and is binding on all



Overview of conditions in the main host countries

Among the five main host countries for refugees from Syria, Lebanon and Jordan host the

largest number of refugees, both in absolute terms and as a proportion of their own



Lebanon currently hosts over 835,735 refugees from Syria as of 5 December 201330 and

Jordan hosts over 566,303 refugees from Syria as of 9 December.31 In March 2013, the

Lebanese government had estimated the actual number of Syrians in the county to be one



In Jordan around one-third of the refugee population live in six refugee camps. Most of them

live in Zaatari, the second largest refugee camp in the world with a population of 117, 000

people.33 The rest live in towns and cities, mostly in northern governorates bordering Syria and

in the capital Amman. There are no official refugee camps in Lebanon except long-standing

Palestinian refugee camps; refugees from Syrian live in towns and cities, including in

makeshift informal camps, throughout the country.34


The infrastructure of Jordan – which has to import much of its energy, water and grain – is

overstretched with much increased demand for water, electricity, housing, schools, health care,

and food. It would reportedly cost Jordan USD $706 million annually to meet this increased

demand for water.35 Some residential areas are struggling to accommodate particularly large



refugee populations and frustrations among many sectors of the population have grown, as

rents increase and there is increased competition for jobs.


In Lebanon, the number of refugees has put a strain on already limited resources, including

water and sewage facilities, public schools, hospitals and other utilities.36 According to the

World Bank, the growing refugee population is expected to increase poverty and unemployment

in Lebanon and further stretch the budget situation in the country, which currently faces one

of the highest debt ratios globally.37 The conflict in Syria has a significant impact on the

political and security environment in Lebanon, with upsurges in violence in areas of Lebanon

bordering Syria, including Arsal in northeast Lebanon in November 2013,38 and in Tripoli in

north Lebanon most recently in November and December 2013, the latter of which has

resulted in at least 10 people dead and 49 injured.39


Despite the challenges faced due to the large number of refugees in both countries, Jordan

and Lebanon have broadly maintained an “open-border” policy, continuing to allow refugees

from Syria to enter, and have generally demonstrated favourable policies towards refugees,

which are appreciated and acknowledged by UNHCR and the wider international community.40


However, both countries have reportedly prevented some categories of people fleeing from the

conflict in Syria from entering their territories, which would constitute a violation of

international law. In Lebanon, tighter border controls have been reported since August 2013

with Palestinian refugees living in Syria and seeking to flee the conflict being denied entry.41


In Jordan, several categories of individuals are generally being denied entry into the country,

including Palestinian and Iraqi refugees from Syria – a policy that the Jordanian authorities

confirmed to Amnesty International in June 2013.42 In addition, according to information

received from national and international NGOs, people without identity documents and

unaccompanied men who cannot prove they have family ties in Jordan are also generally

denied entry; families with young children have also been denied entry.43 There have been

instances of Syrian and Palestinian refugees being forcibly returned from Jordan to Syria, in

violation of international law.44


Turkey is also hosting a large number of refugees from Syria, with 536,765 refugees registered

as of 5 December 2013.45 More than 200,000 of them are being accommodated in state-run

refugee camps. The government estimates the total number of Syrian refugees residing in

Turkey to be 700,000.46


Turkey has received very little international support and has borne nearly all of the costs of its

response to the refugee crisis, amounting to some US$2 billion by September 2013.47 In the

second half of 2012, Turkey refused entry to thousands of refugees from Syria, particularly

those without a passport or an urgent medical need; according to unofficial statements from

Turkish officials, this was due to the fact that refugee camps were full.48 Since that time

Turkey has continued to deny entry at official border posts to many Syrian refugees who do not

possess a passport or who do not have an urgent medical need, despite professing to continue

an open door policy to Syrian refugees.49 In March 2013, up to 600 Syrian refugees were

reportedly returned from Turkey to Syria.50 Since that time Amnesty International has received

multiple reports of further, smaller scale forced returns of refugees to Syria as a punishment

for criminal conduct or misdemeanours allegedly committed by them.


In Iraq, there were 207,053 refugees from Syria registered as of 4 December 2013,51 the vast

majority of them in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. More than 60,000 arrived in mid-August

2013 via unofficial border crossings. However, according to agencies and NGOs operating in

the region, the unofficial border has since been closed again and the official border with Syria

at al-Qaim is also closed.52 The Kurdish Regional Government and the local population have

maintained a generally positive policy and attitude towards the refugees, who are

predominantly Kurdish, but in recent months there have been changes that restrict refugees’



access to residency permits and freedom of movement, which limit their ability to work and to

access services.


Amnesty International received reports of some non-Kurdish Syrians being refused entry to

Iraqi Kurdistan and of tens of individuals, including Arabs, being forcibly returned to Syria.53

Several thousand refugees from Syria reside in al-Qaim camp, in Anbar province, where

freedom of movement is very tightly controlled.


In Egypt there were 129,174 registered refugees as of 8 December 2013, but the government

estimates the actual number at 300,000.54 Egypt maintained an open door policy to refugees

from Syria until mid 2013. However, on 8 July 2013, stricter entry requirements were

imposed on Syrian nationals entering Egypt, requiring them to obtain entry visas prior to arrival.

Due to these new rules, on 8 July 2013 some 259 individuals were reportedly sent back from

Cairo to Syria, Lebanon, and other countries.55


Since the summer of 2013, more than 1,500 Syrian and Palestinian refugees (from Syria) –

including children, women and men – were arrested after attempting to reach Europe from

Egypt by boat; they were arbitrarily detained in police stations across Egypt’s Mediterranean

coast.56 Hundreds of them are believed to have been deported, some of whom were reportedly

returned to Syria.57


In Israel, according to media reports, scores of Syrian nationals have received medical

treatment inside the Israeli-occupied Golan or at hospitals inside Israel.58 Reports indicate that

after medical treatment members of the Israel Defense Forces have then escorted the

individuals across the border to Syria.


In July 2012, the then Israeli Minister of Defence reportedly said “if we have to stop waves of

refugees, we will stop them”.59 Amnesty International wrote to the Minister of Defence urging

him to ensure that anyone fleeing Syria be allowed to benefit from protection procedures and

safeguards to prevent their forcible return to Syria.60 Amnesty International did not receive a

response to its letter.


Fortress Europe: Keeping Refugees Out

As the capacity of Syria’s neighbouring countries to host refugees becomes further strained

and conditions for refugee populations worsen, increasing numbers of people are attempting to

reach Europe in the hope of finding safety and a new life. In the two years to the end of

October 2013, 55,000 people from Syria have directly sought asylum in the EU (see Appendix

1), amounting to 2.4% of refugees from Syria.


To make it to the EU, refugees from Syria have to breach “Fortress Europe”, the collective set

of policies and practices that the EU and its member states employ to keep refugees, asylum-

seekers and irregular migrants out of their territories.


It is nearly impossible for refugees or asylum-seekers to reach Europe lawfully. As a result,

they are forced into arduous journeys, risking their lives on boats or across land, to seek safety

and protection in Europe. Many have undertaken boat journeys from Libya or Egypt to Italy or

from Turkey across the Aegean Sea to Greece. Others have tried to cross the land border from

Turkey to the Evros region in Greece or to make it from Turkey to Bulgaria by land.


Research by Amnesty International has found that refugees attempting to enter the EU in

these ways are met with alarming human rights violations. In two of the main gateways to the

EU, Bulgaria and Greece, refugees from Syria are met with deplorable treatment, including

detention for weeks in poor conditions in Bulgaria and life threatening push-back operations61

in the case of Greece.62




Many refugees from Syria who have attempted dangerous boat journeys to reach Italy have





As of 30 November, some 15,898 Syrian refugees were registered with UNHCR in Libya,63 although the Syrian

community in Libya estimates the actual number at 200,000.64 Access into Libya for Syrians had been gradually

restricted since the September 2012 attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, following which single Syrian men

without a visa were barred from entering Libya.65 Restrictions were further tightened in January 2013, when visa

requirements were imposed on all Syrians, forcing hundreds of refugees to seek entry into the country through

unofficial routes, and exposing them to danger and exploitation by smugglers and various militias operating in the


Libya does not have a national asylum system; the majority of refugees from Syria who are in Libya are in an irregular

migration status, despite a Ministry of Interior decision to issue residence permits for those that register with the

Passport Office. While the move to regularise the status of refugees from Syria is positive, in practice refugees

continue to face serious difficulties in Libya. According to Syrian refugees in Libya interviewed by Amnesty

International in November 2013, residence permits are not always recognized by local authorities or the various

militias which have operated in the country since the end of the 2011 armed conflict and in some cases Syrian

refugees have been arbitrarily detained in immigration detention centres for irregular stay in Libya.

Syrian refugees, who have sought refuge in Libya in the hope of finding job opportunities and a better standard of

living than in neighbouring countries such as Jordan and Lebanon, are now searching for ways to leave the country.

Like other refugees,66 they have been increasingly affected by the current lawlessness and the rise of criminality in

Libya. Without proper documentation and in the absence of a functioning police and judiciary, Syrian refugees, like

other foreign nationals, are vulnerable to abuse. Those interviewed by Amnesty International during its visit in

November 2013 reported incidents of physical assaults by armed men, theft, verbal harassment, and, in some cases,

abductions. Others alleged exploitation, saying they were forced to work for lower wages or were sometimes unpaid.

Syrian women told Amnesty International that they rarely leave their homes after dark out of fear of abductions,

harassment and the general sense of insecurity. Amnesty International has received reports of arrests of Syrians over

their perceived allegiance to the Syrian government, but was not able to verify them independently.

As a result of these conditions, a growing number of refugees from Syrian refugees have started to cross the

Mediterranean in recent months.


The journey to Italy

For years, refugees and asylum-seekers have made the dangerous journey from North Africa to

Italy by sea, largely because there are virtually no legal routes for them to take in to enter

Europe to seek asylum; hundreds die attempting to cross the Mediterranean every year. In the

space of nine days in October, at least 395 – and possibly over 650 – refugees and migrants

died when three boats sank attempting to reach Europe from North Africa.67 From 1 January to

31 October 2013, an estimated 10,680 refugees from Syria are reported to have arrived along

Italy’s coast from ports in Egypt and Libya, as well as Turkey and Syria.68


On 11 October 2013, a boat that, according to survivors, carried 450 to 500 people69 –

predominantly refugees from Syria – sank while on its way from Libya to Italy. According to

reports, there may have also been scores of people locked at the bottom of the vessel.70

According to survivors interviewed by Amnesty International, the boat was damaged while

leaving Libyan waters when a Libyan vessel opened fire on it.71 The damaged boat began to

take in water quickly and subsequently sank taking hundreds of men, women and children

down with it. Those who survived reported that they had remained in the water for hours before

Maltese and Italian vessels reached them.72




Awad, a 17 year-old boy of Palestinian origin from Yarmouk camp in Damascus, described how

he was pulled down with the boat but managed to swim through a window up to the surface.

On the surface of the water he saw people clinging to dead bodies and boat wreckage to stay

afloat, while others fought over life jackets. In the incident, Awad lost his mother as well as

other family members. He still does not have any formal confirmation of whether they are dead

or alive. He told Amnesty International


“I have no idea where my family are…I used to have ambition but now I have lost my

mother, I don’t want anything, I just want stability, everything else is second to that.”73


Another boy from Syria, who lost both his father and nine year old brother in the boat disaster,

told Amnesty International “My experience didn’t just destroy my dreams; it destroyed my

families’ dreams. I am destroyed completely.”74


According to media reports in Malta and Italy, based on numerous survivors’ testimonies, over

250 people may have drowned in the incident.75


Those lucky enough to survive the treacherous journey by boat, either arrive in, or are

transferred by coast guards to, the Italian islands of Lampedusa or Sicily, where they are

hosted in reception centers. For many, Italy is not intended to be their final destination and as

soon as they can, many travel by train to Milan in order to continue their journey north. Many

hope to go on to Sweden, Norway, Germany and other European countries where they have

family and friends or where they believe the conditions for refugees will be better than in Italy.


Abuses at the EU’s borders

The EU’s border control policies are increasingly detrimental to the rights of refugees, asylum-

seekers and migrants. Border control measures introduced over the recent years, including the

externalization of immigration functions and the building of fences, have failed to take account

of the impact on the rights of those seeking to enter the EU. While the EU has the right to

control its borders, the manner in which it does so cannot result in human rights violations –

yet that is exactly what is happening.


For example, in the last few years the EU has provided significant funding to Greece in order

to strengthen the country’s external borders. For the period of 2011 to 2013, the European

Commission – under the Return Fund and the External Borders Fund – provided Greece with

€227,576,50376 to enhance border control measures and increase the capacity to detain

people believed to have irregularly entered the country. In comparison, for the same time

period, €12,220,969 was allocated to Greece under the European Refugee Fund, which

supports efforts in receiving refugees.77


Greece pushing back refugees


“They put all the men lying on the boat; they stepped on us and hit us with their weapons for

three hours. Then at around 10 in the morning, after removing the motor, they put us back to

our plastic boat and towed us back to the Turkish waters and left us in the middle of the sea.’’

E. from Syria describes how he and his mother were pushed back to Turkey by the Greek coastguard on the morning of 6

October 2013. They were part of a group of 35 people, including young children.


Greece’s efforts to seal off its borders to refugees and migrants have included the construction

of a 10.5km fence along the 203 km long Greek-Turkish land border and the deployment of

nearly 2,000 additional border guards since summer 2012; the Greek coast guard control the

sea routes. According to Frontex, the EU agency tasked with coordinating and developing

European border management, this resulted in the number of people entering Greece by land



and sea, dropping from 2,000 per week in early August 2012 to less than 10 per week at the

end of October 2012.78


The latest figures show a sharp decrease in the number of entries via the Greek-Turkish

borders. During the first 10 months of 2012 a total of 32,288 people were apprehended along

the Greece-Turkish borders (land and sea) while during the same period in 2013, 9,851 were

apprehended.79 For the same period the number of apprehensions in the land border dropped

from 30,284 to 839.80


These measures often mean that refugees are forced to try increasingly dangerous routes

across the Aegan Sea. In their desperate attempts to reach safety in Europe, many refugees,

including families with babies and young children, spend their last savings to pay smugglers in

order to board small, unseaworthy and overcrowded boats.  Many have drowned trying.


Since August 2012, at least 130 refugees, the majority of whom were Syrian and Afghan, lost

their lives in at least eleven known incidents attempting to reach Greece by boat from



Unseaworthy vessels are not the only danger that refugees face when trying to reach EU

territory. Refugees, including families and children, have told Amnesty International how Greek

police or coastguards – in some cases pointing guns and wearing full face hoods – ill-treated

them on board boats or at places of detention, stripped them of their belongings and

eventually sent them back to Turkey.


« At around 1 or 1.30 o’clock in the morning we arrived to the river side and they [the Greek

police] handed us over to people wearing black hoods and black or dark blue uniforms. They

took our money and passports. Then, in groups, carried us with small boats over to the Turkish

side with nothing but our clothes left on us.’’

J. and S. Syrian refugees, who claimed to have been pushed back by the Greek authorities to Turkey on 12 November 2013,

interviewed by Amnesty International in Istanbul in 22 November 2013. They were part of the group of 150 people allegedly

sent back to Turkey after they sought shelter in a church courtyard in the village of Praggi in Evros region, Greece.


The number of such cases, which result in unlawful collective expulsions82 from Greece, is not

known. However, Amnesty International’s research points to the continuous use of push-backs

all along the Greek-Turkish border, which affect hundreds of people.


Almost everyone who claimed to have experienced push-back operations told Amnesty

International that they have directly experienced or witnessed ill treatment by Greek authorities.

This included being slapped and beaten, in addition to having their belongings confiscated

without any due process.83


“I was shouting to them that he is my son. They put me aside and I saw them beating my son

for 2.5 to 3 hours. When I asked for water they gave me to drink water from the sea.’’

A 55 year old woman described to Amnesty International her son’s ill-treatment on board a Greek Coast Guard vessel the

morning of 6 October 2013.


Detention in Bulgaria

An estimated 8,000 refugees, including 5,000 refugees from Syria, have arrived in Bulgaria

between January and November 2013.84 The majority are living in government-run reception

centres.85 This is the largest influx of refugees to Bulgaria in recent years – over the last 10

years Bulgaria has received an annual average of 1,000 refugees.


Refugees from Syria and others claiming asylum are housed in emergency centres. The largest

one is in the town of Harmanli, about 30 kilometres from the Turkish border. Amnesty

International visited the centre in November 2013 and observed the living conditions. This

closed centre, effectively a detention centre, accommodates asylum seekers, mainly from Syria



and Afghanistan, in tents, containers and a dilapidated building. Although there are four

toilets in a building at the entrance of the centre, they are frequently blocked and hardly

adequate for the hundreds of residents. The tents are unheated and the residents sleep either

on thin mattresses or on old foldable beds. About 200 people accommodated in a disused

building sleep in two large rooms filled with smoke from improvised stoves. Pregnant women,

children, as well as men and women of various ages, have to cope with lack of beds and

blankets; lack of access to medicine and food.


The centre in Harmanli hosts a large number of people in need of medical care, including

women in advanced stages of their pregnancies, people injured in conflict, and individuals

suffering chronic diseases and mental health problems. Despite this, there is no medical care

provided – except for emergency services – and no access to psychological counseling.


Some of the refugees in Harmanli that Amnesty International spoke to in November 2013 had

been detained there for weeks.


The authorities in Bulgaria acknowledge that the situation at Harmanli is very inadequate. In

an interview with Amnesty International in November 2013, Bulgarian deputy Minister of

Interior, Plamen Angelov stated; “Harmanli is the last resort but currently it’s the only solution

we have.”86



In September and October of 2013 large numbers of refugees from Syria were converging on Italy’s northern city of Milan,

attempting to take trains to northern Europe. At the beginning of October, numbers began to increase significantly;

according to Community of Sant’Egidio, a local non-governmental organization working with refugees, in the following weeks

approximately 150-200 refugees, including children, were sleeping on the floor of the central train station.87 A spokesperson

of the Milan Municipality told Amnesty International88 that many of the refugees stranded at the central train station at that

time were either waiting to go to northern Europe or had been stopped at or near the Austrian and German borders by police

or other officials and sent back to Milan.

The city of Milan quickly mobilized. Volunteers and organizations began bringing blankets, food and clothes to the station.

The local authorities responded by setting up two centres for refugees, run by local NGOs and with capacity for 240 people;

Amnesty International visited one of the two centres in November 2013 (the second centre had closed). According to the

Milan Municipality, almost 1,000 refugees from Syria have been hosted in the centres.89 Once at a centre, refugees receive a

bed, three meals a day, medical attention and a place to rest. To its credit, the Municipality of Milan has treated the influx of

refugees from Syria as a humanitarian emergency rather then as an immigration or security issue.

However, for most, time in the shelters in Milan is a rare moment of respite and a brief one. For some, after only a matter of

days, they attempt the journey north, sometimes using unscrupulous and expensive smugglers out of desperation. Amnesty

International spoke with one family who said they had paid 1,600 Euros each to be taken by car to Austria. However, at the

border they were stopped by the Italian police. Their fingerprints were taken and the smuggler was arrested. The family

decided to go on to Austria, however they were caught again on a train in Austria and returned by car to a police station in





Syrian refugees: A shared responsibility

« It is very important that European countries all over the continent keep their borders

open and [provide] adequate assistance. »

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, 22 November 2013.91


As the numbers of refugees from Syria continues to grow, the EU and its Member States must

do more to provide assistance and protection to those who arrive in Europe, and to share the

responsibility for hosting refugees more equally. Refugees from Syria, including those seeking

to join family members already in the EU, must be able to find safety by legally travelling to



The international community, including the EU and its Member States should increase support

through the UN humanitarian appeals and bilaterally to countries hosting the largest numbers

of refugees, particularly Jordan and Lebanon.


Resettlement places must be significantly increased, providing an important opportunity for

those most in need to enable them to receive adequate support and restart their lives.



To the international community including the EU and its member states, the US, Australia,

Canada, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and other countries able to provide support:

 Share responsibility for refugees from Syria more equally, in particular through

significantly increasing the number of resettlement and humanitarian admission places, over

and above annual resettlement quotas;

 Ensure that the UN humanitarian appeals for Syria are fully and sustainably funded;

 Support countries faced with large influxes of refugees from Syria to enable them to cope

with the pressure on their infrastructure and provide essential services to refugees, including

adequate health care, housing, and food.


To EU member states and the EU:

 Strengthen search and rescue capacity in the Mediterranean to identify boats in distress

and assist those on board;

 Ensure that those rescued are treated with dignity and that their human rights –

including the right to seek asylum – are fully respected;

 Ensure the end of unlawful push-back operations that deny refugees and migrants their

rights, particularly on the Greece/Turkish border.


To all countries receiving refugees from Syria:

 Automatically provide all people fleeing Syria, including Palestinian refugees who were

resident in Syria, with a status giving them international protection;

 Facilitate family reunification for refugees from Syria including by applying flexible

criteria to take into account the nature and needs of different families.


To Syria’s neighbouring countries (in particular Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt):

 Maintain open borders to all people fleeing the conflict in Syria, without discrimination;

 Ensure that all people fleeing Syria are not forcibly returned to Syria, in line with the

principle of non-refoulement.



Appendix 1

New asylum applicants of Syrian citizenship from November 2011 to October 2012, source:

Eurostat, online at

Total for EU Member States between November 2011 and October 2013 = 55,000.


GEO/TIME 11M11 11M12 12M01 12M02 12M03 12M04 12M05 12M06 12M07 12M08 12M09 12M10

European Union

(28 countries) 685 635 725 680 660 740 1,000 1,150 1,825 2,500 2,835 3,080

Belgium 35 55 50 40 25 30 45 60 60 80 70 110

Bulgaria 0 5 10 5 5 5 15 15 25 40 50 115

Czech Republic 0 0 0 5 5 0 5 0 5 5 5 20

Denmark 65 55 70 45 95 50 50 60 105 105 65 75

Germany  285 210 210 230 165 250 375 400 645 690 745 905

Estonia 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 0 0

Ireland 0 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 0 0

Greece 25 30 10 40 10 10 15 10 20 10 30 55

Spain 0 5 15 10 10 5 10 25 20 25 30 30

France 15 20 35 25 40 45 30 25 45 55 50 80

Croatia : : : : : : : : : : : :

Italy 25 30 15 10 15 10 15 15 40 25 50 35

Cyprus 25 15 30 10 5 50 50 30 50 70 75 50

Latvia 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 0

Lithuania 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Luxembourg 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 0

Hungary : : : : : : : : : : : :

Malta 25 10 10 5 10 10 10 0 5 0 15 25

Netherlands 25 15 20 25 15 10 30 25 15 30 55 75

Austria : : : : : : : : : : : :

Poland 0 0 0 0 0 5 0 5 0 0 5 40

Portugal 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 0 5 5 0

Romania 5 5 5 5 0 15 15 20 10 60 20 20

Slovenia 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 5 5 0 10

Slovakia 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Finland : : 20 5 20 5 10 15 15 15 30 25

Sweden 75 80 155 155 155 165 235 360 640 1,150 1,325 1,255

United Kingdom 70 90 70 50 70 65 85 65 125 130 200 155




New asylum applicants of Syrian citizenship from November 2012 to October 2013, source:

Eurostat, online at



GEO/TIME 12M11 12M12 13M01 13M02 13M03 13M04 13M05 13M06 13M07 13M08 13M09 13M10

European Union

(28 countries) 3,065 2,550 2,985 2,275 2,345 2,410 2,455 2,655 3,280 3,720 5,795 4,950

Belgium 115 130 : : : : : : : : : :

Bulgaria 50 95 85 40 180 100 115 200 110 505 670 :

Czech Republic 10 0 10 5 5 5 10 5 5 5 5 :

Denmark 95 65 110 70 80 95 85 120 165 150 190 250

Germany  1,000 590 1,060 710 550 690 730 735 1,000 1,020 1,275 1,630

Estonia 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 0 0 0

Ireland 0 0 5 10 10 0 0 0 0 0 5 :

Greece 45 20 35 45 65 50 30 35 35 30 : :

Spain 25 20 45 75 35 60 55 80 65 50 65 :

France 85 100 80 110 120 90 95 90 90 70 90 :

Croatia : : : : : : : : : : : :

Italy 90 40 70 50 85 40 45 60 70 45 65 :

Cyprus 55 30 30 45 25 25 40 : 20 60 : :

Latvia 5 5 0 5 0 0 5 0 0 0 0 :

Lithuania 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 :

Luxembourg 0 0 0 0 5 0 0 5 5 0 5 :

Hungary : : : : : 65 80 95 75 70 90 :

Malta 15 35 10 15 40 20 5 30 35 10 15 :

Netherlands 95 65 110 105 125 125 125 165 195 210 320 370

Austria : : : : : : : : : : : :

Poland 30 20 50 15 20 10 15 35 35 10 25 15

Portugal 5 0 5 10 5 45 0 0 0 0 : :

Romania 35 25 70 60 80 85 95 75 130 60 : :

Slovenia 5 5 15 5 0 0 15 15 0 0 0 0

Slovakia 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 :

Finland 10 10 5 10 5 15 5 5 10 20 25 :

Sweden 1,160 1,160 1,025 755 775 720 780 740 1,000 1,200 2,745 2,680

United Kingdom 140 135 160 135 125 160 125 170 225 200 205 :



Appendix 2

Pledges for resettlement, humanitarian admission and private sponsorship by country


Country  Pledge (persons)

Australia a 500 resettlement

Austria EU  a 500 humanitarian admission

Canada a 1,300 (200 resettlement and 1,100 private sponsorship)

Finland EU a 500 resettlement

France EU a 500 humanitarian admission

Germany EU b 10,000 humanitarian admission

Hungary EU a 10 resettlement

Ireland EU a 90 resettlement

Lichtenstein c 4 resettlement

Luxembourg EU a 60 resettlement

Moldova a 50 resettlement

Netherlands EU a 250 resettlement

Norway a 1,000 resettlement

Spain EU a 30 resettlement

Sweden EU a 400 resettlement

Switzerland a 50 resettlement

USA a Open-ended number on resettlement

EU total 12,340

EU total excluding Germany 2,340

Total 15,244 plus an additional number to the USA



source: UNHCR, Finding solutions for Syrian refugees: Resettlement, Humanitarian Admission, and

Family Reunification, 18 October 2013, available at:


including an additional 5,000 places announced in early December 2013. See: UNHCR, Finding

solutions for Syrian refugees: Resettlement, Humanitarian Admission, and Family Reunification, 18

October 2013, available at: and Länder fordern mehr Solidarität

und Einheit in der EU-Flüchtlingspolitik », online at



source: UNHCR, email from UNHCR to Amnesty International, 6 December 2013





UNHCR, UNHCR: Two million Syrians are refugees, 3 September 2013, online at:


Based on UNHCR figures for refugees from Syria in neighboring countries and North Africa, which stood

at 2,292,169 as of 9 December 2013, online at In

addition, 55,000 Syrians have sought asylum in the EU between November 2011 and October 2013 (see

appendix 2); smaller numbers have sought asylum elsewhere. The actual number of Syrian refugees is

likely to be substantially higher as many have not registered with an asylum authority.


United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, The Future of Syria: Refugee Children in Crisis,

November 2013, p.9, online at


UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, online at


The World Bank estimated Syria’s population at 22.4 million for 2012, online at last visited 28 November 2013.


UNHCR chief urges states to maintain open access for fleeing Syrians, online at


UNHCR and host countries to push for greater international help on Syrian refugees, online at


For Jordan: based on a World Bank estimated population of 6.181 million in 2011 (source, before the major refugee outflow from Syria started

and a Syria refugee population of 563,706 as of 5 December 2013 (source For Lebanon: Based on a World Bank

estimated population of 4,382,790 in 2011 (source,

before the major refugee outflow from Syria started and a Syria refugee population of 834,199 as of 4

December 2013 (source


Based on a figure of $3 billon out of a total of $4.4 billion. United Nations News Centre, UN

announces largest ever humanitarian appeal for conflict-torn Syria, online at


The appeal is for $2,981,640,112, of which $1,911,978,517 were received. Funding data available

online at

dEp0eHRzcWdVd2hBQmpBVWwxUHRjcUE&single=true&gid=0&output=html, source United Nations

Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Figures quoted on 6 December 2013.


One of the most important methods by which states can contribute to refugee crises is resettlement,

whereby a country offers residency and assistance to refugees from the main host countries. This helps

refugees that have particular vulnerabilities to re-establish themselves in a country that is able to support

them more comprehensively and also reduces the burden on host countries. A number of alternatives to

resettlement exist and are being used, such as humanitarian admission, which offers shorter residency

periods with limits of family reunification, and private sponsorship visas.


UNHCR, Finding solutions for Syrian refugees: Resettlement, Humanitarian Admission, and Family

Reunification, 18 October 2013, online at


See appendix 1.


Finding solutions for Syrian refugees: Resettlement, Humanitarian Admission, and Family

Reunification, UNHCR, 18 October 2013, online at


The US has said that it will take an open-ended number of refugees from Syria for resettlement.

Finding solutions for Syrian refugees: Resettlement, Humanitarian Admission, and Family Reunification,

UNHCR, 18 October 2013, online at


The distance between Damascus, Syria and Nicosia, Cyprus is 203.3 miles, source Wolfram Alpha,

online at


These are: Austria (500 places), Finland (500), France (500), Germany (5,000), Hungary (10), Ireland

(90), Luxembourg (60), Netherlands (250), Spain (30) and Sweden (400). In addition, the following

pledges were made by three non-EU European countries: Norway (1,000), Moldova (50) and Switzerland



According to UNHCR data 12,270 Syrian refugees were registered in Lebanon between 25 and 30

November online at




Amnesty International has published a number of reports on human rights issues facing refugees from

Syria in host countries, see Amnesty International, Growing restrictions, tough conditions: The plight of

those fleeing Syria to Jordan, (MDE 16/003/2013), October 2013, online at; Amnesty International, ‘We cannot live here

any more’: Refugees from Syria in Egypt (MDE 12/060/2013), October 2013, online at

bd9e96843fc2/mde120602013en.pdf; Amnesty International, Turkey: National authorities and the

international community must act in partnership to meet the needs of Syrian refugees, (EUR

44/009/2013) April 2013, online at



These figures were: Egypt: 129,174 (as of 8 December); Iraq: 207,053 (as of 4 December); Jordan:

566,303 (as of 9 December); Lebanon: 835,735 (as of 5 December); Turkey: 536,765 (as of 5

December). Data retrieved on 9 December 2013 from


Based on UNHCR figures for refugees from Syria in neighboring countries and North Africa, which

stood at 2,292,169 as of 9 December 2013, online at

In addition, 55,000 Syrians have sought asylum in the EU between November 2011 and October 2013

(see appendix 2); smaller number have sought asylum elsewhere.


BBC, Syria death toll now above 100,000, says UN Chief Ban, 25 July 2013, online at


See for example the following Amnesty International reports on the human rights situation in Syria:

Amnesty International, Deadly reprisals: Deliberate killings and other abuses by Syria’s armed forces

(MDE   24/041/2012), June 2012; Amnesty International, All-out repression: Purging dissent in Aleppo,

Syria (MDE 24/061/2012), August 2012; Amnesty International, Government bombs rain on civilians,

(MDE 24/009/2013), March 2013; all online at


UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, online at


United Nations News Centre, UN announces largest ever humanitarian appeal for conflict-torn Syria,

online at


The appeal is for $2,981,640,112, of which $1,911,978,517 were received. Funding data available

online at

dEp0eHRzcWdVd2hBQmpBVWwxUHRjcUE&single=true&gid=0&output=html, source United Nations

Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Figures quoted on 6 December 2013.


UN appeals for funds to avert cut in food aid to Syrian refugees in Lebanon, 17 September 2013,

online at, last

accessed on 9 December 2013.


UNHCR, International Protection Considerations with regard to people fleeing the Syrian Arab Republic,

Update II, 22 October 2013, online at


Based on UNHCR information, online at


According to UNHCR information, online at


According to UNHCR information, online


The government estimate includes Syrian workers and their families and other Syrians of means who

have not registered with UNHCR, online at


There were 116,785 refugees in Zaatari as of 9 December 2013, online at


Palestinian refugees, including Palestinians who had until recently been residents of Syria (often

referred to as Palestinian Syrians) of which there are an estimated 235,000 displaced within Syria and

60,000 outside of Syria, have their service and protection needs provided for by the UN Relief and Works

Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). For more information see:



Al-Jazeera, Refugee influx worsens Jordan’s water woes, May 2013




International Crisis Group, Too Close for Comfort: Syrians in Lebanon, 13 May 2013, p.6, online at



The World Bank, Lebanon Bears the Brunt of the Economic and Social Spillovers of the Syrian Conflict,

24 September 2013, online at



The Daily Star, Syrian gunships raid outskirts of Lebanon’s Arsal: source,14 November 2013, online at



BBC, Lebanon city of Tripoli hit by deadly clashes, 1 December 2013, online at


UNHCR, Syria Regional Response Plan (RRP 5), January to December 2013, online at


Amnesty International, Growing restrictions, tough conditions: The plight of those fleeing Syria to

Jordan, (MDE 16/003/2013), October 2013, p. 24, available at:


In a meeting with Amnesty International in June 2013, Jordanian Ministry of Interior officials said that

Palestinian and Iraqi refugees were generally not allowed access and there were restrictions on single

men and those without identity documents.


Amnesty International, Jordan: Children among Syrian refugees denied entry, 19 August 2013, online




Growing restrictions, tough conditions: The plight of those fleeing Syria to Jordan, Amnesty

International (MDE 16/003/2013), October 2013, p 10, online at:


According to UNHCR information, online at


According to UNHCR information, online at


UNHCR, Countries Hosting Syrian Refugees: Solidarity and Burden-Sharing, September 2013, p. 13,

online at


See for example Turkey’s refugee camps full to capacity with Syrians fleeing bloodshed, online at



Human Rights Watch, Iraq/Jordan/Turkey: Syrians Blocked from Fleeing War, 1 July 2013, online at


Amnesty International, Turkey forces hundreds of Syrian refugees back across border, 28 March 2013,

online at



According to UNHCR information, online at


Amnesty International conducted a research mission in the Kurdistan region of Iraq in

November/December 2013.


Interviews with refugees and NGOs, Iraqi Kurdistan, November/December 2013.


According to UNHCR information, online at


Amnesty International, Egypt turns away Syrians, 10 July 2013, online at


See for example Amnesty International, ‘We cannot live here any more’: Refugees from Syria in Egypt,

(MDE 12/060/2013), October 2013, online at:; Human Rights Watch, Egypt: Syria

Refugees Detained, Coerced to Return, November 2013, online at


Amnesty International, ‘We cannot live here any more’: Refugees from Syria in Egypt, (MDE

12/060/2013), October 2013, online at:




For example: Walla, From the beginning of the conflict, 300 Syrian injured have been treated in Israel

(in Hebrew), 30 September 2012 (; and NPR, An unlikely refuge:

Some wounded Syrians treated in Israel, 13 September 2013, online at




For example: Israel will stop any flood of Syrian refugees: Barak, 19 July 2012, online at


Amnesty International, Israel: Government urged to allow all from Syria seeking refuge to enter Golan

Heights, 20 July 2012, online at


Push-back operations, or push-backs, refer to unlawfully pushing back an individual or a group of

individuals while they are attempting to cross a border or soon afterwards, towards the country they came

from. They are unlawful because they take place without procedural safeguards and without respecting

the right of individuals to challenge their expulsion or apply for asylum. If they lead to people being

returned to a country where they risk serious human rights abuses, then they also amount to refoulement,

which is prohibited under international law.


See Amnesty International, Bulgaria: ‘Inhuman conditions’ spark protest at refugee camp, 19

November 2013 online at

conditions-spark-protest-refugee-camp-2013-11-19 and Amnesty International, Frontier Europe: Human

rights abuses on Greece’s border with Turkey, July 2013 (25/008/2013), online at:


UNHCR Libya, External Update – November 2013, online at





Amnesty International, Scapegoats of Fear: Rights of Refugees, Asylum-Seekers and Migrants Abused

in Libya (Index MDE 19/007/2013), June 2013, online at


For more information on the situation of refugees and migrants in Libya, see Amnesty International,

Scapegoats of Fear: Rights of Refugees, Asylum-Seekers and Migrants Abused in Libya (Index MDE

19/007/2013), June 2013, online at


In the first of these incidents, at least 350 people died when a boat from Libya carrying hundreds sank

on 3 October. One incident on 11 October led to the deaths of at least 12 people off the cost of

Alexandria (Egypt). One the same day another boat sank after it left Libya for Lampedusa (Italy);

estimates vary considerably between official figures based on bodies retrieved and testimonies of

survivors. Estimates of deaths for this particular incidents range between 33 and 268. Refugees who

were on that boat said they were 450-500 people on the boat. For more information see for example:

BBC News, Migrant boat “shot at” as it left Libya,

and BBC News, Egypt boat capsize: 12 migrants die off Alexandria,



UNHCR, Egypt Weekly Update, Syria Operation, 4-10 November 2013, available at:


Amnesty International spoke to several refugees who survived this incident in Milan (Italy) in November

2013. See also Fabrizio Gatti, Lampedusa, passing the buck of responsibilities: this is how they left

Syrian children to drown, 28 November 2013, Online at:



Fabrizio Gatti , Lampedusa, la strage senza fine, c’e’ un altro barcone affondato, 21 October 2013,

online at:



There are conflicting reports about who shot at the boat, with suggestions that it might have been either

Libyan coastguard, militiamen or smugglers. The Libyan authorities have launched an investigation into

the allegations made by survivors. The full results of the investigation have yet to be revealed, but

according to the Libyan Prime Minister, the coastguard were not involved in the shooting.


Interview conducted by Amnesty International researchers in Milan, Italy, November 2013.


Interview conducted by Amnesty International researchers in Milan, Italy, 27 November 2013.




Interview conducted by Amnesty International researchers in Milan, Italy, November 2013.


See Lampedusa, passing the buck of responsibilities: this is how they left Syrian children to drown, 28

November 2013, online at:

buck-passing-on-the-massacre-so-they-left-syrians-children-drown-1.143363. See also related

information in UNHCR Chief expresses shock at new Mediterranean boat tragedy, 12 October 2013,

online at


European Commission, online at



European Commission, online at



Frontex, Annual Risk Analysis 2013, April 2013, pg. 20, online at$_2012.pdf


According to the Greek Police, online at


According to the Greek Police, online at


In July 2013, Amnesty International estimated that 101 individuals had lost their lives crossing the

Aegan Sea. See: Amnesty International, Frontier Europe: Human rights abuses on Greece’s border with

Turkey, July 2013 (EUR 25/008/2013), online at

Since then reports have indicated that at least 30 more have lost their lives in several incidents between

July and November 2013. See for example: Amnesty International, Two boat tragedies leave migrants

dead and missing off Europe’s shores, 25 July 2013, online at


Ege’de göçmen teknesi battı: 24 ölü, 31 July 2013, online at;

and Five dead as immigrant boat sinks off Turkey, 29 November 2013, online at



Collective expulsions where groups of people are deported without taking into consideration the

individual circumstance of each person separately violate international national and EU law.


Amnesty International, Frontier Europe: Human rights abuses on Greece’s border with Turkey, July

2013 (25/008/2013), pg., 13, online at


UNHCR, UNHCR chief urges Europe to help Bulgaria cope with Syrian refugee influx, 22 November

2013, online at


UNHCR, UNHCR chief urges Europe to help Bulgaria cope with Syrian refugee influx, 22 November

2013, online at


Interview with Amnesty International, 12 November 2013.


Meeting with Amnesty International, Milan, 27 November 2013.


Email sent to Amnesty International on 2 December 2013.


Email sent to Amnesty International on 2 December 2013.


Interview with the family, Milan, 27 November 2013.


UNHCR, UNHCR chief urges Europe to help Bulgaria cope with Syrian refugee influx, 22 November

2013, online at

source :

date : 13/12/2013