Canadian aid agencies call for a “New Deal” for Syria’s refugees

The international community must agree to a bold new deal for Syria’s refugees if it is serious about tackling the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II, seven aid agencies warned today in a new report.  

With no end to the conflict in sight and no prospect of safe return home, the new deal must provide more investment in Syria’s neighbours, which host more than four million refugees, and an end to restrictions that prevent refugees from working and in some cases living legally in these countries. At the same time, it must protect and strengthen their right to seek asylum.  

“For over four years now, refugees have lived without knowing where the next meal comes from,” said Oxfam Canada’s Executive Director, Julie Delahanty. “Women and men, including former teachers, healthcare workers, and tradespeople among others are struggling to keep a roof over their heads and buy food and clothing for their families. As long as this happens people will continue to make the desperate and perilous journey to Europe, putting themselves at grave risk of innumerable human rights violations including the sexual abuse of women and children”  

“Syria’s neighbors need more support and investment in order to cope with the refugee crisis within their borders. Canada has so far been generous, but when compared to countries like Lebanon – where a quarter of the population are refugees – we could do more. The new Government’s plan to resettle 25,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees is a good place to start,” Delahanty said.  

“We applaud recent commitments to resettle more refugees in Canada. However, more help is required to support the neighbouring countries hosting the overwhelming majority of Syrian refugees,” says Jacquelyn Wright, vice president of international programs for CARE Canada. “Many refugees have already used their savings and struggle to find work to support their families. Syria is a protracted crisis and there is a clear need for a long-term solution that supports both the refugees and host communities.”  

The agencies argue that a new, creative long-term approach is needed. With the right help from international donors, including Canada, Syria’s neighbouring governments should develop policies that allow refugees to better support themselves financially without the risk of arrest by authorities. This would also allow refugees to contribute to the economy of the communities hosting them.  

Unable to afford rent or food, and relying on dwindling aid, refugees are pushed into a spiral of poverty and debt.  Some 70 per cent of refugees in Lebanon lack the documents needed to stay in the country legally, and many refugees in Jordan outside of camps are struggling to access medical and education services because they lack updated documents.  

“We risk losing a whole generation of young Syrians – the same generation that will have to rebuild Syria once the conflict is finally over. With adults and youth unable to earn a living, families are struggling to provide food and shelter. Hundreds of thousands of children are missing years of education as the school systems in neighbouring countries are bursting at the seams and need much greater support,” said Patricia Erb, CEO Save the Children.  

“As refugee families continue to flow across borders – including into Canada – we need to offer a future of hope, safety and dignity. Traditional aid is not enough – we must work together and prioritize support for host countries to provide jobs, housing and social services in the long-term,” said Michael Messenger, president, World Vision Canada.  

Even with the right investment and policies, the scale of the crisis means that the most vulnerable refugees will need asylum outside of the region. Rich countries should provide a safe resettlement option for at least 10 per cent of refugees who are most in need, but so far they have only pledged to accept less than three per cent and waiting time is far too long.


Danish Refugee Council
International Rescue Committee     
Norwegian Refugee Council     
Save the Children     
World Vision International 

Notes to editors:

  • Download the full report: Right to a Future.  
  • Lebanon is hosting more than one million refugees, 30% of its population, including almost 500,000 school-age children. Since January 2015 it has effectively closed its border to new refugees. Those who wish to obtain legal residency have to sign a pledge that they will not work, or find a Lebanese citizen to sponsor them. Hundreds of thousands are facing a choice between giving up their ability to work, or living without valid residency with all the risks that entails.  
  • In Jordan, more than 83% of its more than 630,000 Syrian refugees live outside of camps, in towns and cities. Some 48% of Syrian refugees in host communities have not left the camps through the bail out system and face challenges remaining registered, accessing services and humanitarian assistance and registering birth, deaths and marriages. 99% of refugees who manage to find work have to do so in the informal sector, usually for extremely low wages.  
  • In Turkey, which is hosting some 2 million Syrian refugees, some towns have seen their populations double. Refugees can get services where they arrive but unless for family reunification or medical reasons are often unable to move to urban areas where jobs are available. Around 600,000 Syrian refugees remain unregistered and cannot officially use most public services. Most are unable to work legally and end up in the informal economy, often in exploitative conditions.  In the Kurdish Region of Iraq, refugees in camps can get residency permits allowing them to work and access services – although these are difficult to get for refugees outside camps. Refugees in camps elsewhere in Iraq are unable to work.  
  • In Egypt, there are almost 130,000 registered Syrian refugees but the government estimates there are almost double that number in the country. Only a tiny fraction has been able to obtain work permits due to the lengthy and costly process and quotas limiting the number of non-Egyptians in employment.

For interviews contact:

Melanie Gallant, Oxfam Canada | 613-240-3047 |
Katharine Harris, Save the Children | 416 221 5501 x 295 |
Darcy Knoll, CARE Canada | 613.790.2134 |
Britt Hamilton, World Vision | 416-419-1321 |

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