memorandum, by Mr Bockel, rapporteur
Since the last report presented by Mr Giacomo Santini,Note
the situation of Syrian refugees
has steadily worsened: it is now expected that there will be over
3 million Syrian refugees by the end of 2013, according to the latest
information from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner
for Refugees (UNHCR). I would underline that this figure has practically
increased tenfold in a year, as in October 2012 the number of people who
had been forced to flee the country was put at approximately 294 000.
Growing numbers of Syrians are arriving in Europe. In some countries,
between 3 000 and 5 000 asylum seekers from Syria are arriving every month,
and the trend is far from stopping.
2 The Syrian crisis has gone on for too long and is having unacceptable
humanitarian consequences. In spite of the efforts of host countries,
international organisations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
and donors, the conditions in which the refugees are living are
worsening steadily. The main aim of this report is once again to
alert the international community to the extremely precarious situation
in which Syrian refugees find themselves and to ask it to show solidarity
with Syria’s neighbouring countries which have taken in most of
the refugees and are on the verge of being overwhelmed. Above all,
it is necessary to help these countries to provide decent living
conditions for the refugees, with a particular focus on key aspects
such as education, health and housing, and also to take in refugees
so as to relieve the burden on the bordering countries.
3 Bearing in mind that women and children make up more than
75% of the refugees, it is essential to focus on the precarious
situation they find themselves in.
4 Lastly, in the light of the appeals for aid made by the leaders
of various bordering countries, the report’s key purpose is to reiterate
our appeal to member States to show solidarity and share responsibility
by taking the necessary measures to cater for Syrian refugees as
effectively as possible.
5 For the purpose of preparing this report, I visited Lebanon
and Turkey from 19 to 22 August 2013. I should like to thank everyone
who helped me prepare the visit, in particular the UNHCR and the
2 The situation
6 According to the latest estimates from the Turkish
authorities, approximately 200 000 refugees are living in 21 camps
and 400 000 are living with families. According to UNHCR estimates,
it is highly likely that the figure of 1 million refugees will be
reached by the end of the year.
7 As in Iraq and Jordan, the refugees are living in tents in
camps. The situation in Turkey is completely different from what
I saw in Lebanon.
8 The camps I visited near Hatay were housing some 6 500 people
in 214 tents and 300 “containers”. The camps are run very well by
the Turkish authorities. There is access to drinking water and electricity,
and the camps have sanitary facilities, infirmaries and internet
9 The camp managers seek to keep families together as far as
possible, and the refugees each receive a sum of 80 Turkish Lira
(around 30 euros) a month, set by the World Food Programme and Turkish
Authorities for personal purchases. This enables the refugees to
have a semblance of social life and have contacts with local residents
living outside the camps.
10 The government and the Turkish Red Crescent Society, in accordance
with applicable standards in the area of international humanitarian
law, help refugees in the border areas of the Syrian side, so that
they are catered for as well as possible, as most of them live in
precarious circumstances and a dangerous environment.
As the number of refugees has doubled since the beginning
of 2013, dealing with the situation is now becoming an increasingly
heavy burden for the country, on top of which comes the problem
of fragile security. The double attack which claimed 51 lives in
Reyhanli in Hatay province, near the Syrian border on 11 May, is still
fresh in people’s memories. The Turkish Government blames these
attacks on terrorist groups of the radical left.Note
It should be pointed out that, following
the attacks, some Syrian families began wanting to leave Reyhanli,
which was sometimes seen as a focal point of the Syrian rebellion,Note
to take the no lesser risk of returning
to Syria. For the record, the town of Hatay, formerly known as Antioch,
was part of Syria under French mandate after the collapse of the
Ottoman Empire until 1939, when it became part of Turkey. Many residents in
Hatay belong to the Alawite community.
12 Given the situation in Syria, which is continuing to worsen,
talks are under way in Turkey with a view to considering the possibility
of treating the Syrians as refugees rather than guests, which would
give them more rights. However, the Turkish authorities are aware
that any such change could have an impact on local residents, employment
13 Against this background, I cannot but support the appeal by
the Prime Minister of Turkey, Mr Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, mentioning
the difficulties his country is facing in dealing with the growing
influx of Syrian refugees and pointing out that his country has
provided free food, education and medical care for the Syrian refugees
living in Turkey.
3 The situation in
14 Lebanon is the bordering country hardest hit by the
conflict, as it is estimated that 2 200 Syrian refugees arrive there
every day, including large numbers of women and children experiencing
great financial and humanitarian difficulties. According to data
provided by the UNHCR, there are at present around 764 000 refugees
registered or awaiting registration, and the latest estimates are
that one in four people in Lebanon are Syrian refugees.
15 Focusing on the situation in Lebanon is not insignificant
insofar as the country, which has approximately 4 million inhabitants,
has taken in large numbers of Syrian refugees. This has put severe
strain on its ability to cope, as, according to the UNHCR, it is
predicted that approximately 1 million Syrians will have sought
refuge in Lebanon by the end of the year.
16 The situation is all the more difficult because Lebanon itself
is experiencing a period of political, social and economic crisis
and the problems are only being exacerbated by the conflicts along
the border with Syria.
17 Moreover, Syrian refugees have always been very present in
Lebanon. Following the end of the Lebanese civil war and the 1989
Taif Agreement and the agreements signed by Syria and Lebanon, many Syrians
came to Lebanon looking for work, mainly in the Beirut region.
18 In this context, I would also underline the very precarious
conditions affecting Palestinian refugees, most of whom live in
lawless areas in camps without water or electricity.
19 According to the exchanges of views I had with Lebanese citizens,
the situation of the Syrian refugees is complicated by the fact
that there is currently no legal framework for helping them. The
key reason for this is the threat posed in Lebanon by the refugees
who are Sunnis and willing to take up arms to overthrow the Syrian
20 It should be noted here that Lebanon does not officially recognise
the status of Syrian refugees, but does recognise the status of
21 During my visits to collective accommodation centres, I noted
that most of the refugees there were poor and were living in extremely
precarious circumstances totally at odds with our principles for
the protection of human rights.
22 By way of example, during a visit to the Abu Eliwa accommodation
centre, which is home to approximately 32 families or roughly 150
people, the refugees I spoke to described – without any aggressiveness,
it should be noted – the conditions in which they were living: dirty
water, no sanitary facilities, no aid, high rents and no schools
for their children. There is also the issue of visas which have
to be renewed, for approximately €250, which is an astronomical
sum for them.
23 What they want most of all are basic necessities: baby’s nappies,
covers for winter, as well as access to mobile clinics, etc.
24 At the same time, some wealthier refugees have sought to find
their own flats when their families could not take them in, which
has put property prices up sharply.
25 Poorer refugees receive material and financial aid from the
Lebanese Government and international organisations such as Doctors
without Borders (MSF), the UNHCR and UNICEF, while small local associations also
do what they can to look after the young and the sick and help refugees
to build dwellings.
26 My discussions with the Lebanese authorities showed that the
massive influx of refugees is having an impact on peace in the country,
with some discussion partners indicating that the situation at present
was like being on a powder keg ready to explode. There has been
a rise in crime and unemployment and a drop in salaries, for which
the Syrians are blamed. According to a poll conducted in July 2013
by the French news agency, AFP, approximately 54% of Lebanese no
longer wanted to take in Syrian refugees, believing that their presence
was a threat to the stability of the country. There has also been
an upsurge in attacks and outbreaks of violence and growing tension
between the different communities. Naturally, this insecurity is
also affecting tourism, which used to account for 20% of Lebanese
gross domestic product (GDP).
27 By way of example, I was informed that in Jezzine, the main
Christian town in southern Lebanon, the municipality had taken drastic
measures and banned gatherings of Syrians, following complaints
arising from an upsurge in crime, and the municipal police had evicted
around 30 families from commercial premises, even though they had
been paying rents.
28 In Aley, a tourist resort near Beirut, the municipal authorities
have introduced a curfew for Syrians. These examples show the uneasy
balance prevailing in Lebanon.
29 The situation in rural areas is much easier because village
residents show greater solidarity. The refugees are able, for instance,
to occupy empty garages or rent houses for low rents.
30 The scale of the crisis in Lebanon cannot therefore be underestimated
and there is an urgent need to increase humanitarian aid so as to
provide the refugees with water, food, health care and housing,
as the conditions currently prevailing in the country are having
an extremely negative impact on the situation of the refugees and
humanitarian aid workers who are increasingly afraid for their lives.
31 I would also like to express my disappointment about the lack
of adequate funding to enable local and international bodies to
respond effectively to the needs of the people affected by the Syrian
crisis. As it has only received 40% of the necessary funding from
donors, the UNHCR, for instance, has been forced to discontinue food
aid for some of the refugees as from 1 October 2013 and only provide
“targeted assistance” to those most in need, along with health and
4 The situation in
the other bordering countries
32 The situation in the other bordering countries is
also just as tragic, as there are dire shortages in these countries
in the areas of education, health, water and energy resources and,
if nothing changes, it is more than likely that the population will
start to put pressure on the governments to close their borders,
meaning that large numbers of refugees will come to Europe.
4.1 The situation in
33 There are currently approximately 525 000 Syrian
refugees in Jordan, almost all of whom are Sunnis from areas which
have been bombed. They therefore represent around 10% of the population
of Jordan. Many of them come from Damascus and have financial resources
of their own, while most of the remainder are from rural areas.
34 The first refugees stayed with their families or friends.
Those arriving more recently, however, tend to live in camps or
in the countryside, for lack of financial resources. It should be
pointed out that there are only four camps in Jordan and that 85%
of the refugees first pass through the Zaatari camp to have documents made.
They are only allowed to leave the camp if a Jordanian citizen agrees
to act as sponsor.
35 According to the information received, the living conditions
in the camps are inhumane. For instance, Zaatari camp lies in a
very arid, windswept region, with no water supplies. As is the case
in most of the other bordering countries, this leads to problems
with diseases and also to an increase in tension and violence, as well
as prostitution. In addition, the refugees are not allowed to work,
but many do so illegally anyway.
4.2 The situation in
36 I was unable to visit Iraq, but I gathered from various
exchanges of views that more refugees from Syria have been arriving
in Iraq, in particular in the north of the country and in Kurdistan,
where camps have been set up, in particular since 15 August 2013.
37 Moreover, since the end of August 2013, fighting has resumed
in the Kurdish region of Syria, leading to the arrival of almost
40 000 people. At present, there are around 197 844 Syrians, including
those pending registration.
38 The humanitarian situation is quite clearly deteriorating
very quickly. The Iraqi authorities have made an urgent appeal to
alert the international community.
5 The situation in
other Council of Europe member States
39 According to European Union figures, 24 000 Syrian
refugees sought asylum in European Union countries in 2012. While
these figures are up, they are nevertheless modest. The UNHCR has
set a target of around 10 000 persons arriving in Europe. At the
time this report was drafted, approximately 17 States had agreed
to take in Syrian refugees to relieve the burden on Syria’s neighbouring
40 In this context, I must welcome the German authorities’ decision
to grant asylum to 5 000 Syrian refugees. They will be given two-year
residence permits, which may be extended depending on the situation in
Syria. It should be stressed that this is the largest asylum programme
for Syrian refugees in Europe. According to the German Ministry
of the Interior, almost 1 000 asylum applications were lodged during
August 2013 alone and some Syrian refugees who have not yet been
registered are continuing to enter the country by unlawful and dangerous
41 For its part, the Swedish Government has decided to grant
Syrian nationals already in the country permanent residence permits,
and the right to family reunion. Around 8 000 Syrian refugees have
entered Sweden since 2012 and been granted three-year visas. Switzerland
has also decided to facilitate family reunion as much as possible.
42 Following the calls by the UNHCR, the French Government has
also introduced more flexible measures and agreed to take in 500
Syrian refugees “in a vulnerable situation”. According to the UNHCR,
since January 2013, around 850 Syrians have applied for asylum in
France and 47 000 across the European Union.
43 As far as the rest of Europe is concerned, some refugees who
have crossed Turkey have sought asylum in Greece and Bulgaria, where
the accommodation centres are beginning to be overcrowded, forcing
the authorities to house some of them in detention centres where
conditions are extremely precarious.
44 According to recent UNHCR data, Italy is seeing an increase
in Syrian refugees arriving by boat, mainly from Egypt and Turkey.
Over a 40-day period, almost 3 300 Syrians, including over 230 unaccompanied children,
are reported to have entered Italian territory, mainly through Sicily.
6 The situation in
45 Even though this report mainly deals with the situation
of refugees in bordering countries and in Council of Europe member
States, attention should nevertheless be drawn to the situation
of the refugees in Egypt. They have mostly been expelled to third
countries, this also applying to children, while others have been
placed in administrative detention without any charges having been
brought against them. Nevertheless, these examples are not confined
solely to Egypt and many North African countries are increasingly
being affected by the population movements caused by the crisis
in Syria. My recommendations will therefore be addressed firstly
to the parties in the conflict and, above all, to member and non-member
States of our Organisation so that they take all measures possible
to support and assist Syrian refugees, as well as measures for coping
with the massive influx of refugees both in terms of humanitarian
aid and in terms of development aid.
7 The situation of
displaced persons in Syria
The situation regarding displaced persons in Syria
is alarming. According to estimates by the International Displacement
Monitoring Centre (IDMC),Note
out of a total population of 21.9 million,
6.8 million Syrians have been forced from their homes and livelihoods
by the current conflict. At present, and according to information
from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), adaptation
mechanisms and resources are practically exhausted. It is becoming
increasingly difficult for agencies in the field to gain access
to displaced families, leading to problems in terms of food, water,
medicine and decent housing. Security issues have also forced the
UNHCR to reduce its activities in the country.
47 The needs for protection and assistance for displaced persons
in Syria have increased recently as the situation in the country
has deteriorated, and those concerned are subject to increasing
levels of threats, harassment, domestic violence and abductions.
They are also hardest hit by rising prices, lack of livelihoods and
rocketing rents in the regions said to be the safest. Most of the
displaced persons have become entirely dependent on the aid supplied
by the UNHCR and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.
48 It should be underlined that the imbalances and needs generated
by such displacement are worrying sources of instability which compound
the already critical situation in the country.
8 The situation of
women and children
49 The figures mentioned earlier mainly concern women
and children, who make up approximately 53% of the refugee population.
Most of the refugee women have also been sexually abused or forced
into marriage, while the children are denied access to education
and are forced into work. Many of the children have also witnessed
assaults, crimes and sexual violence, if they have not themselves
been victims. Most of them have fled the country without their families
and, in the absence of support or assistance, are forced into work
or prostitution. According to Ms Melissa Fleming, UNHCR spokesperson,
the growing number of unaccompanied children is due to the very
high cost of travel (between 2 000 and 5 000 dollars per person),
which means that some families are resorting to sending their children
on their own or with friends or relatives.
50 Moreover, international organisations have started to set
up family planning centres and advice centres in Jordan, Lebanon
and Iraq dealing with, inter alia,
the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.
51 During a visit to Geneva in September, the Lebanese Government
made an appeal to the international community highlighting the low
level of aid received and the extremely precarious situation of
the children, who are receiving no education because of the lack
of places in schools. Most of the time, the refugee children receive
ad hoc teaching from volunteers in the same camps. In this connection,
I would praise the arrangements in the camps in Turkey, where the
children can attend classes – indeed, I was informed on the day
of my visit that young Syrian refugees had taken the school-leaving
exam that morning.
9 Conclusion and
52 In conclusion, and in the light of the above findings,
the international community has a duty to respond and take all the
necessary measures to put real humanitarian aid in place. If it
is to be effective, however, such aid should also be accompanied
by development aid concerning infrastructure, services and the construction of
schools and health-care centres.