NGOs urge ‘new deal’ for Syrian refugees

9 Nov 15

Seven aid agencies have warned a ‘new deal’ is needed for Syria’s refugees living in neighbouring countries if the massive humanitarian crisis is going to be resolved.

In a report released yesterday NGOs including Oxfam, Save the Children and the International Rescue Committee called for greater investment in Syria’s neighbours, an end to restrictions that prevent refugees from living and working in these countries and protection and strengthening of their right to seek asylum.

Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, another report signatory, said: “Many refugees are currently being condemned to a life in legal limbo, with an array of restrictions which leave them living in fear of arrest, detention and deportation.

“Their living conditions are deteriorating dramatically. We need to help host countries give refugees the opportunity to live dignified lives and make a positive contribution to the communities hosting them.”

Echoing the words of representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the IRC at a recent UK International Development Select Committee hearing, the agencies argue a new and creative long-term approach is needed to help neighbouring host countries.

This will involve the “right” kind of help from international donors and the development of policies in countries like Lebanon and Jordan that enable refugees to better support themselves financially without the risk of arrest by authorities.

Lebanon, which hosts more than 1 million refugees who now make up 30% of its population, effectively closed its border to refugees in January this year.

Those already in Lebanon who wish to obtain legal residency have to sign a pledge that they will not work or find a Lebanese citizen to sponsor them, leaving hundreds of thousands faced with a stark choice between unemployment and living in the country illegally.

In Jordan too, refugees living outside of the camps are struggling to access medical and education services because they do not have updated documents.

The aid agencies said the international community needs to move from perceiving refugees as a burden to people who can, if enabled, make positive contributions to host economies.

Oxfam executive director Winnie Byanyima said: “Experienced carpenters, farmers and teachers, among others, are struggling to keep a roof over their heads as they scrape money together to pay rent.

“Their skills should be put to good use, to allow them to provide for their families and support the economies of the countries hosting them. New jobs could also benefit the millions of Jordanians, Lebanese, Turks and Iraqis who are facing this crisis too.”

Misty Buswell, regional advocacy director at Save the Children, noted that, with adults unable to earn a living, more children end up in work and missing years of education, while those who do attend find school systems bursting at the seams and in need of much greater support.

“We risk losing a whole generation of young Syrians ‒ the same generation that will have to rebuild Syria once the conflict is finally over,” she said.

However the report noted that even with the right investment and policies, the scale of the crisis means the most vulnerable will still need asylum outside of the region.

It called for rich countries to provide a safe resettlement option for at least 10% of refugees, as oppose to the 3% pledged so far.

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