UNHCR questionnaire finds most Syrians arriving in Europe coming directly from Syria

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is releasing today the results of a preliminary questionnaire of over 1,200 Syrian refugees who arrived in Greece between April and September. The sample is the largest set of data collected to date and offers insights into who these families are and why they are coming to Europe.

During April to September 2015, UNHCR border teams interviewed 1,245 Syrians who had recently arrived in Greece. The aim, through capturing basic information, was to develop a preliminary "profile" of the first groups of Syrian refugees arriving in Greece so that the protection and assistance needs could be better met by government authorities, UNHCR and other partners.

Of those interviewed, 86 per cent had a high level of education, at secondary or university level. Almost a quarter were still searching for a family member missing in Syria, and one in five had been separated from one or more family members in that country. The majority - 63 per cent - had fled Syria during 2015, and 85 per cent had reached Greece on their first attempt.

At least 37 per cent of interviewees had spent less than a month in a country of first asylum or transit. Ninety-one per cent of those who had spent time elsewhere before coming to Europe had lived in private accommodation outside refugee camps.

Over 62 per cent originated from Damascus and Aleppo, Syria's largest cities. The largest groups were students and working professionals, including teachers, lawyers, doctors, bakers, designers, hairdressers and IT specialists.

Understanding the refugee population is critical to ensuring greater responsibility-sharing among EU Member States, and a more comprehensive approach within Europe and in countries of first asylum. UNHCR has been calling on European States to offer safe legal alternatives to refugees who are taking deadly boat journeys. These alternatives include student and work visas, family reunification, private sponsorship, additional resettlement places and humanitarian visas.

While the findings of these 1,245 interviewees are only partly representative of the nearly 263,000 refugees who arrived in Greece during this five-month period, the highlight initial insights about Syrians arriving in Greece. The questionnaires took place in the context of an ongoing emergency and amid great upheaval. People arrived in Greece and quickly moved on allowing only a very short window in which to collect information. The initial data collected, however, made it very clear that further assessment and analysis is imperative to planning and coordinating an appropriate emergency response that takes into account the interests and concerns of the refugees. These findings represent the first in a set of assessments, with a more comprehensive scope, a clearer methodology, and a more randomized - and thus more representative - sampling of refugees, not only from Syria but Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries of origin.

UNHCR will be launching these second and third surveys before the end of December, to include other refugee populations and to ensure more comprehensive, reliable data collection, which will only enhance the capacity of a coordinated emergency response in Europe as well as the countries of first asylum.

The questionnaire is available here: here.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Athens, Aikaterini Kitidi on mobile +30 693 711 5656
  • In Athens, Stella Nanou on mobile +30 693 79 34 515
  • In Geneva, Ariane Rummery on mobile +41 79 200 7617
  • In Geneva, Karin de Gruijl on mobile +41 79 255 9213