Security conditions for more than 3 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq are rapidly deteriorating as rights and protections are corroded under the weight of the protracted crisis and its spillover effects. On Tuesday, Germany will host a meeting of foreign ministers and representatives of international organizations in a bid to address the spiraling Syrian refugee crisis and its effects on host communities.
The conference participants should be commended for prioritizing this important issue, but if they are serious about meeting the needs of refugees and easing the disproportionate burden on the countries that host them, they must do more than address the funding gap that has plagued the international humanitarian aid effort. They must address the critical issue of access to asylum.
All of Syria’s neighbors have either closed their borders or imposed limits on the numbers of refugees that can enter their countries, exposing refugees to violence but leaving them with nowhere to flee. In Jordan, despite denials by government officials, UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, announced in October that the government had closed the border to refugees, stranding thousands of Syrians in remote desert border areas with limited access to humanitarian assistance. The Jordanian government has also deported Syrians and Palestinians from Syria back to the country despite the serious risks. In Lebanon, where one in four residents today is now a refugee, refugees face increasing curfews, arbitrary arrests, and acts of violence by private citizens who operate with impunity; meanwhile, the government has announced that its border is now closed to all but the most emergent humanitarian individual asylum seekers.
The countries represented at the conference should encourage more rights-protective practices by Syria’s neighbors, but they will have little credibility in doing so unless they re-assess their own asylum and refugee resettlement policies to share more of the burden of the Syrian crisis.
Over three days last month, Turkey received more Syrian refugees from the border town of Kobane than the EU has received in the past three years. Meanwhile, thousands of refugees drown each year in their desperate attempts to reach Europe’s shores, and the EU spends billions of euros fortifying its borders as its member states squabble over what is so often portrayed as an undue and unwanted sense of burden.
It would be the height of hypocrisy if non-host countries pressed Syria’s neighbors to keep their borders open to refugees, as the key principles of international refugee law require, while simultaneously tightening measures to prevent Syrian and other asylum seekers from obtaining sanctuary within their own territory.
States should give all possible support for humanitarian aid in Syria’s neighboring countries, but not as an alternative to opening their own doors to more refugees. Both are required to afford some of the world’s most vulnerable populations meaningful safety and security.