Less than 3% of five million Syrian refugees resettled in rich countries: Oxfam

After media coverage of drowned children provoked an outpouring of support in several countries, some rich governments heeded the calls of their citizens and their consciences and pledged to resettle vulnerable refugees. But too often in the last year, we’ve seen some leaders listen to a growing anti refugee xenophobic backlash. Vulnerable Syrian refugees are the ones paying the price.

December 15, 2016

Less than three per cent of nearly five million refugees living in Syria’s neighbouring states have been resettled in rich countries according to a new report published today by Oxfam. Instead a  lack of political will and a rise in xenophobia have driven a backlash against refugees in many countries.

Oxfam reviewed the resettlement policies of eight countries – Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Russia, Spain, the United Kingdom, the United States – and concluded that in some countries a lengthy process, security screening, and an increasingly hostile political climate delayed the arrival of Syrian refugees, while in others increased human and financial resources and political will have improved resettlement.

Andy Baker, Oxfam’s lead for the Syria crisis said: ‘After media coverage of drowned children provoked an outpouring of support in several countries, some rich governments heeded the calls of their citizens and their consciences and pledged to resettle vulnerable refugees. But too often in the last year, we’ve seen some leaders listen to a growing anti refugee xenophobic backlash. Vulnerable Syrian refugees are the ones paying the price.

‘Around 130,000 Syrians spread across the rich countries of the world is a tiny number, particularly when contrasted with Lebanon, where one in five people is a refugee. While resettlement will not solve the crisis, it is a tangible way to provide hope for many refugees and show a concrete act of solidarity with Syria’s neighbours which host the vast majority of the men, women and children who have fled the war.’ 

Canada resettled about 35,000 Syrians in the last year, while the UK has resettled a little more than 3,000. When compared to the size of the economy of each country, this means that since the start of the Syria conflict Canada has welcomed 248 per cent of its fair share of vulnerable refugees, and the UK a meagre 18 per cent.

Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey host the vast majority of the nearly five million Syrians registered as refugees and along with  Iraq and Egypt have faced the refugee crisis with limited financial support from others states. As of December 2016, the humanitarian response to the Syria refugee crisis was just half funded.

Oxfam is calling on the international community to share the responsibility for refugees more equitably, by offering resettlement or other humanitarian admissions to the most vulnerable 10 per cent of Syrian refugees by the end of 2017, in addition to other means of admission, like family reunification and student visas.  

Some rich countries must improve their process to welcome vulnerable refugees, and learn from those who have taken the lead, while fighting the negative and largely false fears and public discourse about refugees.

For example, it takes on average six months for a refugee to be resettled in the Netherlands, while in other countries the process can take up to five years. Canada deployed almost 500 additional staff to embassies in countries neighbouring Syria to fast-track the resettlement process.  While the US was also able to send more personnel and resources to the region, it has met only 10 per cent of its fair share.

Spain has rejected a request from UNHCR to provide 500 visas for Syrian students from Jordan and Lebanon, despite overwhelming public support for resettlement.  In Russia, only two Syrians have received refugee status, despite the country being party to the 1951 refugee convention.

Notes to Editors: 

The full report can be found here: https://www.oxfam.ca/our-work/publications/where-there-is-a-will-there-is-a-way

Resettlement is an option whereby a third country (i.e. not the one the refugee has fled from, or the country of first asylum/residence) offers refugee status to an individual.

Humanitarian admission programmes are much like resettlement, but normally involve expedited processing, often without the involvement of UNHCR, and may provide either permanent or temporary stay depending on the legislation or policy of the state offering this option.

Oxfam initially called for rich states to collectively commit to offer a safe haven through resettlement or other forms of humanitarian admission to at least 10 percent of the registered refugee population by the end of 2016. This corresponds to the number of refugees UNHCR has identified as vulnerable. Oxfam calculated the specific number it would consider a “fair share” for individual countries based upon the size of their economy.

Contact information

Joelle Bassoul, Oxfam media advisor Beirut, jbassoul@oxfam.org.uk +961-71525218
Melanie Gallant, Oxfam media officer Ottawa, melanie.gallant@oxfam.ca 613-240-3047