UN Secretary General says more help needed for Syrian refugees

Ban Ki-moon joins UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi at a one-day conference in Geneva to call for more options for 4.8 million Syrian refugees.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon joins United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi at a high-level conference in Geneva calling for more options for Syrian refugees.   © UNHCR/A-L. Lechat

GENEVA, March 30 (UNHCR) - Addressing a one-day, high-level conference in Geneva on refugees from Syria, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said more needs to be done to provide resettlement and other answers for their plight.

"We are here to address the biggest refugee and displacement crisis of our time … This demands an exponential increase in global solidarity," he told the gathering at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, attended by the representatives of 92 countries together with governmental and nongovernmental organizations.

Some 4.8 million Syrians have been forced to flee across borders by five years of war, while another 6.6 million are internally displaced. While talks are underway to find lasting peace, the UN chief said more countries need to step up and provide solutions for Syrian refugees.

"The best way to offer hope to Syrians is by ending the conflict," the Secretary General said. "But until such talks bear fruit, the Syrian people and the region still face a desperate situation. The world must step up, with concrete actions and pledges. All countries can do more."

The March 30 conference was one of several key events in 2016 to do with Syria's refugees. It followed February's London Conference on Syria at which donors pledged US$12 billion to help those in need in Syria and in the surrounding region along with the needs of communities in host countries.

"Now these pledges must be honoured," the Secretary General said.

The conference, which was also attended by 10 inter-governmental organizations, nine UN agencies and 24 non-government organizations, came in the run up to September's summit on refugees to be held at the General Assembly meeting

The focus of the gathering was the need for expanded, multi-year programmes of resettlement and other forms of humanitarian admission, including involving countries that till now have not been involved in such initiatives.

Conference host Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, emphasized that the responsibility for caring for refugees should not be left to Syria's immediate neighbours alone, but should be more equitably shared.

"The magnitude of this particular crisis shows us unmistakably that it cannot be business as usual, leaving the greatest burden to be carried by the countries closest to the conflict," Grandi told the gathering, also attended by representatives from key refugee-hosting governments.

"Offering alternative avenues for the admission of Syrian refugees must become part of the solution, together with investing in helping the countries in the region," he added.


Among solutions identified to end their plight is resettlement to third countries. Grandi highlighted a programme in which UNHCR worked with Canada to screen, select and prepare more than 26,000 refugees to start a new life in just four months.

Grandi said other pathways included more flexible mechanisms for family reunification, including "extended family members, labour mobility schemes, student visas, scholarships, as well as visas for medical reasons."

"Resettlement needs vastly outstrip the places that have been made available so far. Last year, only 12 per cent of the refugees in need of resettlement, who are usually the most vulnerable, were resettled," Grandi said.

UNHCR estimates that at least 10 per cent of the 4.8 million refugees in countries neighbouring Syria will need resettling or other humanitarian help to safely move elsewhere before the end of 2018. This includes people considered acutely vulnerable, such as survivors of torture, refugees with serious medical conditions or women left alone with several children to care for and without family support.

In closing remarks, Grandi said the conference had achieved “a clear recognition of the need for solidarity and responsibility-sharing for refugees.” But he also reminded delegates of the wider global displacement context and the immense challenges ahead, including finding a political settlement for Syria, and dealing with ongoing displacement and secondary flows from conflicts elsewhere.

“I am under no illusion that we are appealing for this at a very difficult time, and within a troubling context,” he said. “The solidarity required is a global one at this juncture. The collective effort of many states, and many actors within states, is essential.”

Overall he said progress was seen on Wednesday in several areas, including modest increases in the number of resettlement and humanitarian admission places, bringing the total to date to 185,000. Several countries offered to increase significantly their global resettlement programmes further this year and in the coming years. In addition, the EU committed to resettle further refugees from Turkey.

A number of States affirmed their commitment to family reunification, including willingness to ease procedures. Several Latin American and European countries announced new humanitarian visa programmes or the expansion of existing ones. Thirteen states confirmed scholarships and student visas for Syrian refugees.

Ahead of the conference, the Campaign Director of Avaaz, Alice Jay, handed over a petition to Grandi carrying over 1.2 million signatures in support of refugees. The petition, collected since the summer, calls for increased resettlement and reunification of families alongside financial support to countries on the frontline of the crisis, among other things.

Avaaz, meaning 'voice', is a global citizens' movement which campaigns in 15 languages on six continents. A selection of photographs and messages of 'Refugees Welcome' from 23,000 Avaaz members around the world is being shared on a screen outside the conference hall.

For more information about the conference, please click here. For a press release detailing pledges made at the conference, please click here.