Syria crisis: UNHCR urges EU states to uphold Common Asylum System principles

Thursday 18, October 2012 BUDAPEST, October 18 (UNHCR) – 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 […]

Thursday 18, October 2012

BUDAPEST, October 18 (UNHCR) – 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.

On the EU’s south eastern periphery the number of Syrians seeking asylum in Bulgaria and Romania increased though numbers remain low overall with just over 500 Syrian asylum seekers in Central Europe so far this year.  Between July and September, Bulgaria registered 114 asylum claims from Syrians nationals bringing the total of Syrian men, women and children who sought protection in Bulgaria during the first nine months in 2012 to 183.  Most of the recent arrivals stay in a transit centre at Pastrogor, some 12 km from the Turkish border. Here they have shelter and can move freely but with winter just weeks away, many are worried about the onset of cold weather. They have about one Euro a day to buy food; the nearest store is a two-kilometre walk away.

In Romania, 195 Syrians including men, women and children have made asylum claims between January and September 2012 with 100 of those lodged in the last three months.  They stay in open reception and accommodation centres mainly in Galati, Bucharest and Timisoara. These Syrians are not detained, but like other asylum-seekers in the country, they struggle to survive on less than one Euro a day.

Elsewhere in Central Europe, the number of asylum applications from Syrians have remained steady or increased slightly though numbers remain small overall. In Hungary 78, in Poland 29, in Slovenia 13, in Slovakia 3 and in the Czech Republic a total of 23 Syrians have sought asylum between January and September 2012.

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).

In Central Europe, with the exception of Romania, most Syrians are given subsidiary protection status only than full refugee status under the Refugee Convention leaving them with generally less rights.  A reasonably high proportion of Syrians – for example, 25 in Bulgaria, 51 in Hungary, and 60 in Romania in the first nine months of 2012 – are rejected altogether and not given any form of protection at all.

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