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UNHCR welcomes Germany's decision to extend Humanitarian Admission Programme to an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees

Press Releases, 13 June 2014

13 JUNE 2014 The UN refugee agency welcomes the decision taken at the German Interior Ministers' Conference to extend their humanitarian admission programme for Syrian refugees by an additional 10,000 places. Germany has previously committed to providing 10,000 places for Syrian refugees under this programme in 2013 and 2014.

UNHCR representative in Germany, Hans ten Feld said the decision "was further strong proof of the leading role Germany plays regarding the admission of Syrian refugees beyond the conflict region. Now offering a total of 20,000 places Germany provides over two thirds of the total admission and resettlement places offered across the whole of Europe. This is an important signal of real solidarity with the victims of this horrible conflict." In addition, fifteen federal states in Germany have launched programmes for Syrian nationals with relatives in Germany. Approximately 5,500 visas have been issued under this scheme to date.

UNHCR urges states to consider a number of solutions that can provide secure, urgent and effective protection for Syrian refugees in need. UNHCR anticipates that in the coming years, there will be increasing numbers of vulnerable Syrian refugees who will be in need of resettlement, relocation, or other forms of humanitarian admission. In addition, states could offer other kind of solutions, including programmes that enable Syrian relatives to join family members, create scholarships for Syrian students, and offer medical evacuation for refugees with serious health conditions that require life-saving treatment.

We appeal to the international community to continue providing long-term solutions for Syrian refugees who are most urgently in need. UNHCR urges other states to join Germany in offering resettlement and other forms of admission for refugees from Syria towards the multiannual goal of 130,000 by the end 2016. Germany's offer of 10,000 places now brings the total places pledged for Syrian refugees globally to well over 33,000 places, exceeding the goal set by UNHCR to secure at least 30,000 places for Syrian refugees by the end of 2014. Germany's contribution also sets an important precedent for States as they begin making plans for offering additional places in 2015-2016 to help reach the next benchmark of 100,000 places for Syrian refugees.

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Haunted by a sinking ship

Thamer and Thayer are two brothers from Syria who risked their lives in the hope of reaching Europe. The sea voyage was fraught with danger. But home had become a war zone.

Before the conflict, they led a simple life in a small, tight-knit community they describe as "serene". Syria offered them hope and a future. Then conflict broke out and they were among the millions forced to flee, eventually finding their way to Libya and making a desperate decision.

At a cost of US$ 2,000 each, they boarded a boat with over 200 others and set sail for Italy. They knew that capsizing was a very real possibility. But they hadn't expected bullets, fired by militiamen and puncturing their boat off the coast of Lampedusa.

As water licked their ankles, the brothers clung to one another in the chaos. "I saw my life flash before my eyes," recalls Thayer. "I saw my childhood. I saw people from when I was young. Things I thought I no longer remembered."

After ten terrifying hours, the boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, throwing occupants overboard. Rescue, when it finally came, was too late for many.

Theirs was the second of two deadly shipwrecks off the coast of Lampedusa last October. Claiming hundreds of lives, the disasters sparked a debate on asylum policy in Europe, leading Italian authorities to launch the Mare Nostrum search and rescue operation. To date, it has saved more than 80,000 people in distress at sea.

Eight months on, having applied for asylum in a sleepy coastal town in western Sicily, Thamer and Thayer are waiting to restart their lives.

"We want to make our own lives and move on," they explain.

Haunted by a sinking ship

A Teenager in Exile

Like fathers and sons everywhere, Fewaz and Malak sometimes struggle to coexist. A new haircut and a sly cigarette are all it takes to raise tensions in the cramped apartment they currently call home. But, despite this, a powerful bond holds them together: refugees from Syria, they have been stranded for almost a year in an impoverished neighbourhood of Athens.

They fled their home with the rest of the family in the summer of 2012, after war threw their previously peaceful life into turmoil. From Turkey, they made several perilous attempts to enter Greece.

Thirteen-year-old Malak was the first to make it through the Evros border crossing. But Fewaz, his wife and their two other children were not so lucky at sea, spending their life savings on treacherous voyages on the Mediterranean only to be turned back by the Greek coastguard.

Finally, on their sixth attempt, the rest of the family crossed over at Evros. While his wife and two children travelled on to Germany, Fewaz headed to Athens to be reunited with Malak.

"When I finally saw my dad in Athens, I was so happy that words can't describe," says Malak. However, the teenager is haunted by the possibility of losing his father again. "I am afraid that if my dad is taken, what will I do without him?"

Until the family can be reunited, Malak and his father are determined to stick together. The boy is learning to get by in Greek. And Fewaz is starting to get used to his son's haircut.

A Teenager in Exile

Jihan's Story

Like millions, 34-year-old Jihan was willing to risk everything in order to escape war-torn Syria and find safety for her family. Unlike most, she is blind.

Nine months ago, she fled Damascus with her husband, Ashraf, 35, who is also losing his sight. Together with their two sons, they made their way to Turkey, boarding a boat with 40 others and setting out on the Mediterranean Sea. They hoped the journey would take eight hours. There was no guarantee they would make it alive.

After a treacherous voyage that lasted 45 hours, the family finally arrived at a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, called Milos - miles off course. Without support or assistance, they had to find their own way to Athens.

The police detained them for four days upon their arrival. They were cautioned to stay out of Athens, as well as three other Greek cities, leaving them stranded.

By now destitute and exhausted, the family were forced to split up - with Ashraf continuing the journey northwards in search of asylum and Jihan taking their two sons to Lavrion, an informal settlement about an hour's drive from the Greek capital.

Today, Jihan can only wait to be reunited with her husband, who has since been granted asylum in Denmark. The single room she shares with her two sons, Ahmed, 5, and Mohammad, 7, is tiny, and she worries about their education. Without an urgent, highly complex corneal transplant, her left eye will close forever.

"We came here for a better life and to find people who might better understand our situation," she says, sadly. "I am so upset when I see how little they do [understand]."

Jihan's Story

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