Oxfam calls on Western governments to offer haven as number of registered Syrian refugees reaches 3 million

August 28, 2014
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Western and other rich countries should step up their efforts to resettle Syrian refugees, Oxfam said today after the number registered with UNHCR reached three million.[1]

Urgent action is necessary in order to respond to a growing regional crisis caused by increasing displacement, insufficient aid and over-burdened infrastructure in neighboring countries, Oxfam added.

Approximately 5,000 refugees have been resettled in countries beyond Syria’s neighbors through the UN: that’s only 0.16% of the registered refugee population. Meanwhile the UN humanitarian appeal for the refugee response is still woefully underfunded, with less than half the money it needs. Though neighboring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey have been very generous in helping refugees to date, their generosity is wearing thin as often poor host communities bear the brunt of Syria’s ongoing crisis.

The international community must play its part in offering refugees protection, and supporting neighboring countries to accept people fleeing the conflict in Syria.

Neighbor countries stretched

Andy Baker, head of Oxfam’s Syria crisis response, said: “As the number of refugees grows, aid is proving insufficient and neighboring countries are stretched to breaking point. It is shocking that over three years into a crisis which shows no sign of abating, under the UN refugee resettlement scheme rich countries have taken in a mere 5,000 of the 3 million registered refugees who are often struggling to survive from one day to the next.

“The international community should step up its support and work with the UN to quickly offer a life-line to some of the most vulnerable families by giving them a new home. The refugees we work with are desperate to return to rebuild their lives in Syria, but while a political solution to the crisis remains elusive, there is sadly no way that they can.”

Funding shortfalls

Facing significant funding shortfalls, humanitarian agencies have already had to cut programs and target their assistance, leaving refugees to go without. In Jordan, Oxfam has had to halt cash payments that were helping 6,500 refugees in host communities. In June 2014, the UN was forced to downscale the funding target aimed at refugees from US $4.2 to $3.74 billion due to a lack of available funds from donors.

“The fact that 3 million Syrians are now refugees is just part of the picture of human suffering. With 10.8 million more people needing help inside Syria and indiscriminate attacks on civilians claiming more lives each week, more and more families will be forced to seek sanctuary. Refugees are increasingly depleting their savings and assets: with opportunities to work in neighboring countries often limited or non-existent, people have few choices left open to them and many can’t see how they can provide for their families in the future.

"Without sustainable support for an improved humanitarian response and increased resettlement for the most vulnerable refugees, the road ahead looks incredibly bleak,” added Baker.

Humanitarian crisis

In Jordan, the settlement of thousands of Syrian refugees in a very water-scarce area is putting huge pressure on available water resources. Refugees who Oxfam is working with in Zaatari camp have to make do with just over 35 liters per person per day for essential drinking and cleaning – a dramatic drop from the 70-145 liters they were used to back home in Syria.

With soaring summer temperatures, the threat of health risks looms large as Oxfam and other humanitarian agencies battle to meet basic needs, while working to create a piped water network that will provide Zaatari camp residents with a more sustainable water source.

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Case study in Jordan

In Syria, Abu Suheib was a physics teacher who lived comfortably with his family in their hometown of Inkhil in the Daraa Governorate. 

Now Abu Suheib, 60, has no more students to teach. He is one of around 100,000 Syrians living in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. His wife and four of his seven children share a tent with him.

“In Syria, I was a well respected teacher. Every day, I woke up to make a difference in the lives of young people. My old life feels like a dream that never happened. Today, I live in this small space with my children and our lives have been turned upside down,” Abu Suheib said.

As both a teacher and a parent, he knows that a good education is vital for children and young people to build themselves a future. Now he fears that unless there is an increase in opportunities for Syrian refugees to get an education, a whole generation of boys and girls will miss out on this intrinsic human right.

“My daughter was in her last year of college and now cannot complete her studies. My fear is greater for my younger children and all youngsters in the refugee camp. Most aren’t going to school and I’m afraid this is going to result in an entire generation that is illiterate,” he said.

“There is not enough funding for education. People need food and water, so that is the focus, not education.” 

Case study in Lebanon

Emad Abdullah watches over his 3-year-old son Karim from his wheelchair. Emad, 39, was seriously injured during a bombing in Qusair, south of Homs, three years ago, when the siege of the city began. His spine and his legs were damaged in the attack. But although his injuries are serious they can be treated. He could get better.

After he was hurt, Emad, his wife and their two small children came to Lebanon. Here he initially received the medical care he needed – but the treatment has since stopped.

Emad said: “I can walk again, but I need more medical help, which is expensive, and we can’t afford it. We don’t have any money: we fled with everything we had. Karim had just been born then.” Emad’s wife is scared. Back home, they witnessed brutal fighting, during which Emad lost his mother and brother. She does not want to reveal her name.

Emad is very worried about the future of his family and how he can contribute to it.  In Syria, he had a grocery shop and a second job as a taxi driver. He feels helpless since his injury. He says: “Maybe [if I were able to go to] Europe or another country it could help me find good medical treatment and walk and take care of my family again”.  

 “I cannot keep waiting on this wheelchair; I need to work, to provide for my family,” Emad said.

His voice tailed off to a whisper: “What kind of future can I provide for them in this condition, for my children? You know, sometimes I think that my death would be a better option”.


Notes to editors:

Oxfam is an international confederation of 17 organizations working together in more than 90 countries.

Media Contact Information

Oxfam has staff in Beirut/Amman/Oxford who can do interviews in English, Arabic, and French.
Contact Joelle Bassoul for enquiries:



[1] Number of people registered with UNHCR in neighbouring countries. Total number of Syrians who have fled their country or have been internally displaced exceeds 10 million, out of a total population of 22 million.

[2] UNHCR still consolidating data on final destination. Figure does not include family reunification.

[3] States can make pledges for resettlement, humanitarian admission, individual sponsorship, medical evacuation, or admission of relatives beyond existing family reunification programmes. States may also make commitments to expand their capacity to receive Syrian refugees under labour mobility and private investor schemes, student scholarships, or other migration programmes. To date, the total pledges for Syrian refugees since 2013 stands at nearly 34,000  places, plus an open-ended number pledged by the United States of America. For more details, see: https://www.unhcr.org/52b2febafc5.html

[4] Syrian ministry of Water Resources


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