As Syria crisis continues, UNHCR urges EU states to uphold Common Asylum System principles

Briefing Notes, 16 October 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 16 October 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

With a small but growing number of Syrian asylum seekers arriving in countries of the European Union, UNHCR is reminding EU member states of the importance of adhering to the principles of the Common European Asylum System. These include ensuring access to territory, access to asylum procedures, harmonized approaches to the adjudication of asylum claims and mutual support between member states. There is an opportunity for the EU to put its commitment to solidarity into practice.

According to Eurostat, between January 2011 and August 2012, the European Union together with Norway and Switzerland received 16,474 asylum applications from Syrians. The figures across European countries vary; Germany received 5,515, Sweden 2,506, followed by the Switzerland (1,405), Austria (972), UK (912), Denmark (908) and Belgium (796). The numbers in other member states are considerably lower.

While most Member States are processing claims and granting protection to Syrians, currently approaches to interpreting protection criteria and the type of status and entitlements granted vary considerably. In Greece for example, the asylum-system fails to meet the protection needs of many refugees. In some countries on the Eastern border of the EU rejection rates are more than 50 per cent. In addition, some countries are more likely to give Syrians a tolerated stay rather than actual protection. There is therefore a risk that people in need of protection will be denied the rights to which they are entitled under EU or international law and will be compelled to move on (usually to other EU states).

Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey continue to host the overwhelming majority of Syrian refugees now numbering 343,871 Syrians who have either formally registered as refugees or are being assisted. Arrivals of asylum-seekers from Syria in the EU have been relatively small, with less than 20,000 Syrian asylum-claims filed by Syrians in the past 18 months.

With the crisis continuing, contingency planning at national level for new arrivals should take place. At EU level, there must also be readiness to consider applying the Temporary Protection Directive and other appropriate responses, if the conditions demand it. As always, it is important that the right to seek asylum is upheld at all times.

The European Union and the Member States are among the largest contributors to the Syria Regional Response Plan which represents the combined planning of 52 UN Agencies and NGOs who are supporting Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. This plan was recently updated with an appeal figure of US$487.9 million. It is currently 29 per cent funded. The EU has provided over 8 million euro to the RRP to date, and is considering further contributions. Individual EU Member States have also offered welcome financial support. However, further funding is and will be required to meet the pressing humanitarian needs of displaced people.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Brussels: Melita Sunjic, on mobile +32 473 17 23 58
  • In Amman (for general Syria enquires): Ron Redmond (Regional Spokesman) on mobile +962 79 982 5867
  • In Geneva: Sybella Wilkes on mobile +41 79 557 91 38
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