UPDATE: This press release has been updated to reflect the most recent funding figures from both Oxfam International and OCHA for the Russian Federation.
(Washington, DC) – Russia’s contribution to meeting the needs of refugees displaced by the Syrian conflict has been negligible, while its military involvement in the conflict has been significant. Russia should use the upcoming summit meetings on the global refugee crisis to make commitments to share responsibility for refugees in line with its capacity.
The United Nations Refugee and Migration Summit will be held on September 19, 2016, followed by a Leaders’ Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis the next day.
Russia should also address serious shortcomings in its asylum system that are preventing most Syrian asylum seekers who have made it to Russian territory from receiving the protection they are entitled to under international law. Since 2011, Russia has not offered one resettlement place for Syrian refugees, and Russian officials have claimed the question of receiving Syrian refugees in Russia is “not on the agenda.”
“Russia is extensively involved in the Syrian conflict but has done virtually nothing to help the 11 million people who have lost their homes and livelihoods as a result,” said Bill Frelick, refugee rights program director at Human Rights Watch. “Russia has the resources to do much more, but it has yet to show any inclination to pull its weight.”
The charity Oxfam International has issued a “fair share analysis” for the past several years on Syria-related assistance. Its calculations, based on gross national income, among other factors, have assigned Russia approximately $717 million of the humanitarian funding burden. Oxfam calculated Russia’s actual contributions to be 1 percent of its fair share, the lowest percentage of any of the 32 donor countries surveyed.
Human Rights Watch has extensively documented attacks carried out in the Syrian conflict with Russian support that have put civilians at risk. Russian forces have, in joint operations with Syrian government forces, attacked hospitals and schools, used internationally banned cluster munitions and incendiary weapons, and otherwise carried out indiscriminate attacks. Russia announced in late July that Russia and Syria would open three humanitarian corridors out of eastern Aleppo, in northern Syria, to allow civilians to flee the besieged area. But Russia has shown minimal commitment to assisting civilians once they have been displaced.
Russian officials have rejected any responsibility to do more to help refugees, claiming that Russia is doing its part simply by “assisting the [Syrian] government in combating terrorist groups.” Russia contends that the burden of the Syrian refugee crisis should fall on those countries whose policies contributed to the war in Syria, without acknowledging that Russia has become a party to the conflict.
This resistance to participating in global responsibility-sharing is reflected in Russia’s contributions to aid efforts for Syrian refugees. Russia did not participate in the February 2016 London Donor Conference, which brought together 45 countries and secured $US 6 billion in pledges for 2016 and US$6.1 billion in pledges for 2017-2020. Instead, according to data published by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Russia has contributed or pledged to contribute US$6.8 million to the UN funding appeals for the Syria crisis response – which amounts to 0.1 percent of the total of contributions so far, and 0.09 percent of the total requested by the UN for the year.
This low figure is consistent with Russia’s prior contributions to UN humanitarian appeals since 2012, which have averaged around 0.4 percent of the total received and 0.3 percent of the total requested. While Russia has in some years offered bilateral or other aid not directed specifically at the UN appeals, the amounts have ranged from US$860,000 to US$1 million – not enough to offset the disproportionately low contributions to those appeals themselves.
Oxfam International has calculated that a Russian fair share of resettlement based on the size of the country’s economy would be 33,536 places by the end of 2016. In response to the UN Refugee Agency’s Syrian refugee resettlement appeal earlier this year, Russia pledged no refugee resettlement places, but only to provide university scholarships for 300 Syrian students.
For Syrians who have managed to flee their country and make their way to Russian territory, significant flaws in the Russian asylum system have prevented the vast majority from receiving meaningful protection. Due to these deficiencies, in February, Human Rights Watch urged Norway to give full consideration to asylum seekers’ claims if they had travelled through Russia to reach Norway.
According to Russia’s Federal Migration Service (FMS), about 12,000 Syrians are in Russia, including those with valid student or work visas and those who were living in Russia before the conflict began. But as of April, only two Syrians had been granted refugee status since 2011, and about 1,300 had been granted temporary asylum – a lesser form of protection. About 2,000 reportedly have some other form of lawful residence, but thousands more are living in limbo.
“While the Russian government is happy to send its forces to participate in the conflict, when asked to step up its humanitarian response it rejects any responsibility for assisting vulnerable people who flee their homes in search of safety,” Frelick said. “Russia can and should increase its contributions and help to ensure that Syria’s displaced can live in dignity and peace.”