B Explanatory memorandum by Mr Santini,
1 The conflict in Syria is constantly
escalating and thus claiming ever more victims, including a great number
of civilians. The attacks of the Syrian army are causing between
200 and 300 deaths every day. According to the United Kingdom-based
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the latest estimates place
the death toll at several tens of thousands since the conflict began.
2 Concurrently, the number of refugees from the country and
internally displaced persons within the country is steadily increasing.
According to the Internal Displacements Monitoring Centre (IDMC),
some 1.5 million people have lost their homes and their livelihoods
3 The number of refugees is increasing daily and now stands
at 294 005 for refugees and at 1.2 million for displaced persons.
The shooting and fighting at Aleppo, Homs, Damascus, Idlib and Deraa
compel civilians to leave the country and take shelter in the neighbouring
countries, or go to other Syrian towns.
4 Among the refugees are numerous unattended children who explain
that their parents are dead or have remained in the country to look
after their family.
5 In the light of the foregoing, it is necessary to examine
firstly the situation in the country and secondly the situation
in the neighbouring countries, as well as the implications for the
Council of Europe member States.
situation in Syria
2.1 Violations of
6 The Chairperson of the International
Commission of Inquiry on Syria, Mr Paulo Pinheiro, has submitted a
report to the United Nations Security Council on the blatant violations
of human rights by government forces and the Shabiha, the militia
in power, as well as by anti-government groups in Syria, and has
asked for the matter to be referred to the International Criminal
Court. I would like to take this occasion to support the request by
several countries to extend and widen the commission’s mandate in
order that it may continue its investigations.
7 Human Rights Watch, for its part, on a visit to Aleppo in
north-western Syria, was informed of the ill-treatment and acts
of torture inflicted on prisoners by armed opposition groups, which
had also carried out summary extrajudicial killings, which also
constitutes a manifest war crime.
2.2 Extremely precarious
8 According to the Office of
the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the
other organisations present in the country, the situation is more
and more critical. The internally displaced persons are beginning
to run short of food, essentials and drinking water, and the conditions
of hygiene and security are far from good.
9 Moreover, the resumption of the school year makes it more
and more urgent to find alternative solutions for the persons accommodated
in schools. According to the UNHCR, 350 schools are occupied by
displaced persons and, according to the government, over a million
people are occupying public buildings. The Syrian authorities have
issued a list of schools able to continue sheltering families after
school resumes, but these schools are not able to accommodate everyone.
2.3 Security issues
10 Fighting continues in the Syrian
towns and there are daily media reports of the attacks on civilians,
staff of humanitarian organisations and members of the medical profession,
not to mention theft of food and medicine.
11 Most hospitals are closed and the medical personnel must work
clandestinely and in precarious conditions. I should like to commend
the actions of organisations which continue to assist and treat
internally displaced persons in clandestine clinics with disregard
for their own safety, and in particular the work and commitment
of the UNHCR and the other organisations on the ground whose members
are endeavouring to help the victims of the conflict to the best
of their ability, despite the difficulties encountered on a daily
basis and the dangers which they have to face.
12 Indeed, the staff of the humanitarian organisations face serious
difficulties and lack secure conditions for rendering assistance
to and caring for the injured as well as delivering food and essential
13 In this connection, I wish to recall the statements made by
the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs,
Ms Valerie Amos, that humanitarian aid should become the overriding
question, and by the spokesman for the United Nations/Arab League
Special Envoy on Syria, Mr Ahmad Fawzi, asking that Syria allow
the opening of “humanitarian corridors”.
14 However, the idea of opening “humanitarian corridors” or “buffer
zones” is far from unanimously accepted.
15 By definition, “humanitarian corridors” or “buffer zones”
are designed to protect internally displaced persons as well as
the delivery of humanitarian aid. However, without the agreement
of the Syrian authorities, these zones are liable to cause clashes
between the Syrian army and the international forces tasked with securing
16 Given the impact of this conflict on the population, it is
fitting to recall that the parties to the conflict definitely need
to draw a distinction between civilians and persons directly involved
in the conflict.
17 Military operations must be conducted with constant care being
taken to spare the civilian population and civilian property such
as houses, schools or workplaces.
3 The situation
in bordering and other countries
18 Some 294 000 refugees have
fled to bordering countries such as Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and
Iraq; others have made their way to a number of Council of Europe
member States. The principal problem faced at present, as winter
approaches, is shelter. Indeed, in most countries the refugees have
been able to occupy schools, but before classes resume it is urgent
to find other accommodation for them. In this connection, my wish
is that all the bordering or other countries, including Israel,
should open and continue to leave open their borders to refugees.
and bordering countries
19 The situation in all neighbouring
and bordering countries is becoming more and more critical owing
to the shortage of food, essential goods and premises. The approach
of winter will make this situation still more difficult and catastrophic.
Turkey has taken in over 87
000 refugees and, in view of these mass arrivals, the Turkish authorities have
decided to open two new camps providing 23 000 places. Another camp
with room for 10 000 opened in September. Here I recall that in
its Resolution 1878 (2012)
on the situation in Syria, the Assembly stressed the need
to move the refugee camps further away from the border with Syria
to afford the refugees better safety and guarantee the civilian
character of the camps.
The Turkish government from the outset instituted a temporary
protection arrangement for all Syrian nationals wishing to receive
international protection. This arrangement was established in accordance
with international criteria and principles, namely:
- the borders remain open;
- no enforced return to Syria;
- everyone present in Turkey is registered, provided with
papers and entitled to protection and assistance, until such time
as return to the country is both possible and can proceed under
optimum conditions of safety.
22 According to the information provided by the UNHCR, seven
new camps have been built, bringing accommodation capacity to almost
130 000 persons for Turkey alone.
23 The Turkish authorities nevertheless declare that they are
greatly concerned over the presence of the Kurdish Democratic Union
Party in northern Syria, affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’
Party (PKK) and consequently considered a terrorist organisation
by Turkey and the United States, so much so that the Turkish authorities
have decided to protect their borders by positioning tanks and rocket
launchers along them. In that regard, I strongly condemn the attacks
by the PKK which is taking advantage of the power and security vacuum in
Syria, or even of the Syrian regime’s complexity, to hit Turkey.
24 May I take this occasion to thank Turkey and the Turkish authorities
for having immediately answered the call and for having received
refugees from the outset of the crisis. I do, however, have to repeat
the call on Turkey to remove, as soon as possible, the geographic
reservation restricting its obligations under the 1951 Convention
only to people uprooted by events in Europe.
25 In Jordan, the count is some
54 000 Syrians and this figure has been constantly increasing, as
in the other bordering States, since the beginning of 2012. The
authorities contemplate making provision for further camps having
regard to the upsurge, since early 2012, in the number of refugees
arriving in their country. Since it opened on 29 July 2012, the
Zaatri camp, located near the Syrian border, has received 28 000
26 As a rule, the refugees cross the border at night and are
received by the International Organization for Migrations (IOM)
and the Jordanian army. Most mention having been repeatedly moved
before arriving in Jordan.
27 The UNHCR has in fact recorded the arrival of 1 400 Syrians
per day, as against only 1 700 Syrians who have decided to return
to Syria voluntarily.
28 According to the latest estimates,
around 57 000 Syrians have been registered or made the request to the
UNHCR, which has observed an increase of almost 77% in the number
of refugees arriving in this country. The refugees are mainly women
and children or vulnerable persons.
29 The situation in Lebanon proves quite critical given the mass
arrival of Syrians. In fact, according to the UNHCR, there are far
more refugees than the statistics show, owing to the residence rights
enjoyed by Syrians in Lebanon. In contrast to Turkey, Jordan and
Iraq, the Syrian refugees are disseminated among the Lebanese rather
than grouped in camps. Their main presence is in northern Lebanon,
a region which has forged economic and family links with Syria.
30 But the housing question remains worrying nonetheless, and
the UNHCR has called on the Lebanese authorities to create collective
accommodation centres as quickly as possible in vacant public buildings
31 Another matter of concern is security, particularly in the
north of the country and more specifically at Akkar and Tripoli
where violent confrontations between Alawi and Sunni groups have
been taking place since May 2012. The Syrian crisis poses a big
threat to Lebanese sovereignty and territorial integrity.
32 It should be remembered that
over a million Iraqis have come to Syria and are now trapped by
the conflict. According to the UNHCR, Iraqis represent over 90%
of the refugee population in Syria.
33 The number of refugees recorded in Iraq is some 34 000. The
Iraqi Government has moreover decided to support persons of Iraqi
origin wishing to return to Iraq by chartering special flights for
them. Not all border crossing are open however and the UNHCR has
had to appeal to the Iraqi Government to reopen the border post
at Al-Qaem closed since 15 August.
34 Most refugees arriving in Iraq suffer from severe trauma,
especially the children who have witnessed violence. They are generally
housed in schools or mosques.
35 A large proportion of these people arrived in Iraq having
left behind their administrative documents and title deeds to property.
36 I take this occasion to commend the government’s initiative
of granting six-month residence permits to the refugees in Al-Qaem.
3.2 Council of Europe
37 Some 5 370 asylum requests
have been registered in the Council of Europe member States, the
largest number in Germany and Sweden.
38 Applications for asylum in Germany have virtually doubled
since the beginning of the year 2012, that is from 295 in January
to 615 in May and totalling 2 155, a figure which is likely to increase
further in the months ahead. Where Sweden is concerned, the authorities
registered 865 requests from January to May, with a total of around
39 The other countries most concerned are Belgium, France, Italy,
Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
40 Greece for its part is in the process of tightening its maritime
and land-based controls. It should be borne in mind that Greece
was regarded as the principal way in for irregular migrants. Indeed,
according to information from the Ministry of Citizen Protection,
some 100 000 unauthorised migrants arrive in Greece each year.
4 The implications
and Europe’s response
41 In the face of this tragedy,
Europe has a duty to exercise its responsibility to protect populations
and display solidarity, in particular with those countries receiving
large numbers of asylum seekers. The economic crisis prevailing
in Europe must not provide a pretext for refusing to take in refugees.
4.1 Temporary protection
42 One of the primary measures
would be to set up temporary protection machinery and an action
plan for the reception of these refugees, for instance similar to
what was done to protect the populations of Kosovo in 1999 or to
take in the Christians from Iraq in 2010.
43 In this context, I should like to recall that, given the mass
influx of displaced persons after the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia
and the Kosovo crisis, most European Union member States set up
exceptional schemes of de jure or de facto “temporary protection”. These measures were endorsed by
Council Directive 2001/55/EC of 20 July 2001 on minimum standards
for giving temporary protection in the event of a mass influx of
displaced persons and on measures promoting a balance of efforts
between member States in receiving such persons and bearing the
44 Temporary protection would thus obviate the need for refugees
to undergo the often very lengthy and demanding asylum request procedures
and enable them to enjoy an immediate guarantee of security.
45 It should be noted that for the time being, in the Council
of Europe member States, this temporary protected status is no longer
applied. However, the responsibility of protection ought not to
stop at the border, and the member States should not evade obligations
in respect of refugees.
46 Another solution would be to facilitate to the utmost the
issue of visas by granting, if possible, humanitarian visas through
the embassies of the neighbouring countries.
4.2 Reception and
accommodation of refugees
47 The paramount concern is the
readiness of countries to receive and accommodate refugees. Faced
with the mass influx of refugees, the international community must
unequivocally show solidarity.
48 In this context, I wish to welcome the European Commission’s
decision to release additional humanitarian aid worth 50 million
49 The refugees’ accommodation is a question becoming still more
crucial with the approach of winter. While during the preceding
months shelter in tents posed no problem, this solution will soon
no longer be viable as winter draws near.
50 The host countries will also need to take specific measures
for women and children.
4.3 Laying down an
51 It is imperative that the international
community lay down a plan to guarantee Syria’s economic and political
stability. This plan should be concentrated on the forms of assistance
to be rendered regarding security, institutions and economic reconstruction
as well as in the humanitarian sphere. A grant from the Council
of Europe Development Bank would be greatly appreciated here, and
accordingly a request to its Governor could be contemplated, asking
that a donation from the Selective Trust Account be considered in order
to reinforce the UNHCR’s action for the benefit of refugees from
52 Given the precarious conditions
in which displaced persons within Syria and refugees in bordering countries
are living, the rapporteur calls on the international community
to take the necessary measures to help provide decent living conditions
for all these people, in keeping with the principles of our Organisation.
53 He believes that Council of Europe member States have a duty
to respond, especially given the growing number of applications
for asylum being registered in our countries, and in this context
calls on governments to consider the possibility of introducing
temporary protection and to examine arrangements for an action plan to
help Syria rebuild itself, in both institutional and economic terms.
54 The rapporteur hopes that member States will make the necessary
arrangements to provide reception and accommodation centres, given
the risk of an upsurge in the number of refugees arriving in Europe.
55 Lastly, it is important that the international community give
unconditional support to the mediator, Mr Lakhdar Brahimi, in his
efforts to achieve a swift resolution of the conflict.