memorandum by Mr Bockel, rapporteur
One year after the adoption of Resolution 1971 (2014)
“Syrian refugees: how to organise and support international
assistance?”, the humanitarian crisis in the region has reached
an unprecedented scale.
2 This is due in large part to the rise of the terrorist group
known as “Islamic State” (“IS”), which, on 29 June 2014, proclaimed
the establishment of a caliphate on the Iraqi and Syrian territories
under its control. This organisation bore other names such as “Islamic
State of Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL) and “Islamic State of Iraq and
Syria” (ISIS) before adopting the name “Islamic State”. For the
purposes of this report, but without wishing to give it any official
status, I will refer to the group as “IS”.
3 Since 2006, this terrorist organisation has considered itself
the true State of Iraq and, since 2013, that of Syria. “IS” has
made the city of Raqqa (the main city of a governorate in the centre
of Syria) its political and military capital, situated at the heart
of the recently conquered Syrian territories.
4 It is regarded as the most violent jihadist movement in the
world and is accused by the United Nations, the Arab League, the
United States and the European Union of being a terrorist organisation
responsible for war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against
5 According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR),
in 2014 alone, the conflict resulted in a grim total of 76 000 deaths
including 3 500 children, compared to 73 000 in 2013 and nearly
50 000 in 2012, not counting the thousands of people who have disappeared
in the regime’s jails or among the jihadists. Added to this are
some ten million refugees and displaced persons, and the illegal
immigrants who have died at sea.
6 Since August 2014, an international coalition has been running
a military operation against the organisation and, since mid-September
2014, a United States-French alliance has been carrying out air
strikes on “IS” vehicles and sites. In addition, executions and
offensives by “IS”’s jihadists are now daily occurrences in Iraq
and Syria, resulting sometimes in the disappearance of entire communities.
As a result, the countries bordering on Syria have been faced
with a major influx of Syrian refugees, and this poses enormous
problems, whether it be from the humanitarian, socio-economic or
political viewpoint. Since the adoption of Resolution 1971 (2014)
, another million refugees have left Syria.
8 Against this background, the Committee on Migration, Refugees
and Displaced Persons feels that there is an urgent need to alert
the international community again.
9 For the purposes of this report, I have visited Geneva and
Turkey. During my discussions in Geneva with representatives of
the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
(UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and
the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), whom I would
like to take this opportunity to thank for their warm welcome, everyone
I spoke to agreed that at present there was no prospect of a solution.
The talks enabled me to identify more clearly the contacts to be
made in Turkey and to choose the region to visit. My discussion
partners also highlighted the scale of the humanitarian crisis,
which, in their view, was unprecedented.
10 I went to Turkey at the beginning of January 2015 to take
stock of the situation on the ground, and I should like to thank
both the UNHCR and the Turkish authorities for helping me organise
the visit. In particular, I went to Gaziantep, Killis, Urfa and
Ankara and, with the assistance of the Turkish authorities, was
able to visit Killis refugee camp and a number of urban refugees
in the region of Urfa.
11 The contacts I met in Ankara, whether the Director General
of the Red Crescent, the Director of the Disaster and Emergency
Management Authority (AFAD) or the Deputy Under-Secretary in the
Ministry of the Interior, all made a very clear call to the international
community to recognise the scale of the humanitarian crisis and
act generously and responsibly.
2 The general
situation of Syrian refugees
12 Since July 2014, the main areas over which “IS” has
had control have been the eastern rural area of the Governorate
of Aleppo, the Governorates of Raqqa and Deir-ez-Zor and a part
of the Governorate of Al-Hasakah. Gradually, their control has extended
south, towards the Jordan–Iraq border, and north, to a part of Syrian
Kurdistan near the border with Turkey.
13 Following this increase in hostilities, more and more Syrians
have been fleeing their country, or their town or village, to escape
“IS” troops. According to the SOHR, “IS” executed at least 1 429
people in Syria between June and November 2014. The groups affected
the most have been women and girls who, when captured, are regarded
as commodities, sex objects or spoils of war.
14 Consequently, since the beginning of the conflict in March
2011, some 9 million refugees have fled Syria and there are some
6.5 million internally displaced persons. A large number have left
for the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan or Iraq,
while others have travelled to the Caucasus, the Persian Gulf or North
Africa. Some 150 000 Syrians have requested asylum in a European
15 In September 2014, the Swedish authorities stated that all
Syrian asylum seekers would have a permanent right of residence
in view of the escalation of the conflict. Sweden was thus one of
the first countries to make such an offer, meaning not only that
some 8 000 Syrians would be able to reside permanently in Sweden
but also that their families would be allowed to join them by virtue
of family reunification rights.
16 Other non-European countries in South America, namely Argentina,
Brazil and Uruguay, have made the same offer.
17 However, Syrian refugees are finding it increasingly difficult
to get over the border, as they have become obvious targets for
trafficking. For instance, refugees wishing to cross the desert
to the east of Jordan are forced to pay traffickers to be able to
pass through safely. It is also becoming increasingly difficult
to find jobs, food and housing in the neighbouring countries, despite
the assistance provided by organisations, in particular the UNHCR.
18 It is for this reason that halting the food aid provided through
the World Food Programme would be catastrophic for all these people,
and I therefore reiterate my appeal of 5 December, highlighting
the wretched situation of destitution in which these people find
Since the adoption of Resolution 1971 (2014)
, the situation in Syria has deteriorated still further
and it has become impossible to keep track of the number of attacks
and executions, whether on the borders of Syria or of Iraq. This
relates above all to women, girls and children, who account for
the large majority of Syrian refugees. In this context, I would
like to welcome the German decision to accommodate women raped by
“IS” activists and I would call on the solidarity of the international
community to follow this example.
20 I would also point out that Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq
and Egypt alone have taken in 95% of the refugees, which has had
an impact on social and economic life in those countries.
21 For the purposes of this report, I will focus mainly
on the situation and reception of Syrians and on the exceptional
role played in this matter by Turkey, which, for a long time, was
a transit country to the European Union but has now become a host
country for asylum seekers.
3.1.1 The Directive on
22 Turkey ratified the 1951 Geneva Convention on the
Status of Refugees while making the reservation that the convention
applied only to persons displaced because of events in Europe. When
Turkey signed the 1967 Protocol, it specifically reiterated this
23 Consequently, Turkey had no legal obligation towards refugees
fleeing their country because of events outside Europe. Non-European
nationals had access neither to refugee status nor to the right
to a permanent residence permit. Refugees recognised as such by
the UNHCR as needing international protection had permission to
seek asylum in another country. Nonetheless, since the beginning
of the conflict in 2011, the Turkish authorities have made an exception
for Syrian refugees by considering them to be “guests”. It should be
noted that this guest status had already been granted by the Turkish
authorities to Chechens fleeing the war in Chechnya. This status
as “guest of the State” would seem to be temporary and reversible,
and permanently to imply some threat of expulsion. Accordingly,
before the recent amendment to legislation, Turkey refused to establish
a refugee protection system and delegated this task to the UNHCR.
This was because Turkey believed that these refugees were not destined
to remain in Turkey but to be resettled in other countries. However,
owing to the massive influx of refugees, it became impossible for
the UNHCR to resettle all of them.
24 Since 22 October 2014, Turkey has amended its legislation
on temporary protection for refugees, establishing a new definition,
new criteria and a new procedure for asylum. The new regulation
applies to Syrian nationals and stateless persons coming from Syria.
The main innovations are the centralisation of all migration-related
procedures within a Directorate for Migration and Asylum and the
establishment of a civilian border control agency replacing the
army, whose aim is to be incorporated into the European Border Surveillance
System. This reform introduces the idea of integration for refugees
for the first time and is aimed at improving their access to free
health care and the labour market.
25 What is important now is to be able to implement this new
legislation as quickly as possible.
3.1.2 The situation of
26 According to the latest estimates provided by the
UNHCR, there are about 1 600 000 registered Syrian refugees, 223 000
of whom are living in one of the 22 camps and 891 000 of whom live
outside the camps. Minors account for 51% of the total number of
refugees. A new influx of refugees was recorded following the offensive
by “IS” fighters against the Kurdish city of Ain al-Arab (or Kobane
in Kurdish) in northern Syria. As a result, over 150 000 Syrian
Kurds entered Turkey in a few days. With this new influx, it is
feared that the Turkish authorities will no longer be able to cope.
According to a report by Amnesty International, increasing numbers of
refugees are refused entry and shot at with live ammunition at the
27 According to the authorities in the region of Suruç, between
500 and 600 people are waiting to cross the border.
28 At the official border posts, Turkey applies an open-border
policy for Syrians, but only two such posts are fully open along
a 900-km stretch of border. Yet, even at these official border posts,
people without passports are regularly refused entry unless they
require emergency medical or humanitarian assistance.
29 The effect of this is that most refugees try to get over the
border at unofficial transit points, which are not easily accessible,
and unfortunately, when these lie in conflict zones, they rely on
the help of smugglers.
3.1.3 The specific situation
of Kurdish Syrians
30 However, a large number of the Kurdish refugees from
Syria have preferred to prolong their journey, making for the remote
Gawilan camp in Iraq, having found that living conditions have become
very difficult in Turkey. People live on the street or in crowded
mosques without any food or money and some refugees arriving at
the border in cars have been forced to leave them there. A large
majority of Syrians of Turkish origin have been travelling to northern
Iraq, where they have family or friends.
31 Looking more particularly at the Kurdish Syrian refugees in
Turkey, a large majority live in urban areas, with no other resources
than income from undeclared jobs or begging. No real special provision
has been made for their protection or assistance, particularly in
terms of access to health care, employment and housing. The growing
number of refugees on the streets of large cities contributes to
the increased hostility of the local population, who are increasingly
alarmed by the influx of foreigners. To house and feed themselves,
families take desperate measures, which frequently include making
their children work.
32 At the presidential election, the resolution of the “Kurdish
question” was a major focus of discussions, which led, on 10 July
2014, to the adoption of an outline law to put a stop to terrorism
and to reinforce social integration.
33 Since then, developments have speeded up and in January the
Kurds and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units announced the liberation
of Kobane. However, in spite of the announcement of the liberation of
this Syrian town, “IS” continues to be a threat, as fighting is
still going on in the surrounding villages and the town has been
completely devastated and is just a mass of ruins and gutted and
deserted buildings. This is hindering the return of the some 200 000
Syrians who have sought refuge in Turkey. Their return is all the
more theoretical since the Turkish authorities are prohibiting them
from crossing the border and the Kurdish forces are concerned about
residents’ health and safety because there is no housing in a decent
state of repair and food supplies are beginning to run short.
3.1.4 New labour legislation
34 The Turkish Government has changed its labour legislation
with regard to the roughly 1.6 million refugees in the country and
allowed them to work officially in certain clearly defined sectors
insofar as the number of Syrians employed does not exceed 10% of
total employees. A lack of resources is also affecting safety in
35 Since my visit to Lebanon, in August 2013, the situation
there has worsened, as the crisis in Syria is still weighing heavily
on the country. Lebanon has a population of around 4 million and,
according to the latest estimates, it has taken in nearly 1 133 000
refugees. Lebanon is therefore indisputably the neighbouring country
which has been most affected by the conflict. As I already noted
in my previous report, the numbers of Syrian refugees and the impact
of the economic crisis have affected Lebanon particularly seriously.
36 Syrian refugees have moreover always been a feature in Lebanon
as, since the end of the Lebanese civil war and the 1989 Taif agreement
and the agreements signed by Syria and Lebanon, many Syrians have come
to Lebanon looking for work, mainly in the Beirut region.
37 Syrian refugees are indeed in a very vulnerable situation,
particularly because, for the time being, there is no legislation
to help them. It should also be noted here that Lebanon still does
not grant Syrian refugees any official status, but does recognise
the status of Palestinian refugees. Furthermore, unlike Jordan and Turkey,
Lebanon has not set up camps, and so refugees are scattered throughout
38 Lebanese families who were living in Syria but have fled and
now face the same challenges as other refugees find themselves in
an unusual situation. They are often regarded as Syrians and frequently
they are not aware of, or familiar with, the services available
39 In this respect, there is an urgent need to improve the system
of registration for Syrian refugees and to inform them about the
assistance measures available to them.
40 Nonetheless, in order to limit the influx of refugees, for
the first time, Lebanon has decided to regulate the entry requirements
for Syrian nationals by applying procedures provided by the Geneva
Convention. Consequently, visas are issued for the purposes of tourism,
medical treatment, studies, transit or consultation of a foreign
embassy for all those who are sponsored by a Lebanese national.
Temporary residence permits are granted to business people and property
owners. To be entitled to a tourist visa, applicants must have a hotel
booking, a valid identity document and at least 1 000 dollars.
41 In reaction, the UNHCR spokesperson has pointed out that these
new rules do not include “a clause referring explicitly to exceptional
humanitarian grounds, as was planned in the government policy of
October 2014” and “that it is the UNHCR’s international responsibility
to ensure that refugees are not forced to return to situations in
which their lives would be in danger”.
42 Particular attention should also be paid to children, considering
that, according to available estimates, 24% of refugees are aged
between 4 and 17 and they do not attend school for various reasons,
such as school fees, growing insecurity and transport problems.
43 In this context, tribute should be paid to the work of the
IOM in helping and assisting migrants in transit through Lebanon
wishing to travel to Austria, Canada, Denmark, Norway and the United
44 According to the information collected, there has
been a significant decrease in the number of people at the registration
centre despite the UNHCR’s efforts to improve access to Jordan for
Syrian refugees. Currently, around 650 000 Syrian refugees live
in Jordan, in other words some 100 000 more since my last report. Jordan’s
decision to restrict access to its territory is prompted in particular
by security problems. According to information received from Jordan
authorities, the number of trials implicating Syrians increased
by 132% between 2011 and 2014. Food and water are supplied by the
IOM and the ICRC in co-operation with the Jordanian border authorities.
The UNHCR has also provided blankets. However, in winter weather,
it is clear that refugees face hygiene problems and risks of a deterioration
in their state of health, so much so that a number of refugees have
returned to Zaatari camp. Currently, Jordan has only three camps,
and the result is that nearly 75% of refugees live outside the camps,
either on the streets or in makeshift accommodation.
45 Despite an overall decrease in the number of refugees arriving
in Jordan in 2014, UNICEF noted an increase in the number of unaccompanied
Syrian children as compared to 2013. According to the latest estimates,
there are around 4 500 unaccompanied Syrian children.
46 I would like to pay tribute to the Back to School campaign,
launched by UNICEF and Save the Children, which has reached over
100 000 people, contacted through door-to-door visits or at refugee
registration points, and encouraged families to send their children
to school, with the result that some 19 500 students attend classes
in the Zaatari, Azraq and Emirati-Jordanian camps.
47 In September 2014, Amnesty International published
a report accusing “IS” of carrying out a systematic ethnic cleansing
campaign in northern Iraq and conducting mass executions. In October
2014, “IS” claimed responsibility for the most vicious attack, in
which two car bombs exploded simultaneously in a Baghdad shopping
area causing 14 deaths and wounding 34 people. According to information
collected by the UNHCR, the Iraqi authorities have begun to legalise
the residence of Syrians who have entered Iraq via the Peshkhabour
border crossing. According to the latest estimates, there are some
226 000 refugees in Iraq.
48 The UNHCR has also identified and assisted 588 particularly
vulnerable people, including people in a poor state of health, pregnant
women and unaccompanied minors.
49 With regard more specifically to the question of education,
the government of the Iraqi region of Kurdistan has announced that
it can no longer pay the wages of refugee teachers, as it has not
received any grants from the Iraqi Central Government.
4 The situation of
unaccompanied and stateless minors and of women and girls
50 The Syrian conflict has resulted in many children
being separated from their families, meaning they are paying a high
price for the conflict. Some of them have lost their parents, have
fled for fear of being enlisted by militias or have been placed
in the care of relatives by their parents. Minors form a very large
share of the refugee population, whether in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan
or Iraq. The situation has worsened recently with the arrival of
ghost ships carrying migrants including large numbers of unaccompanied
and undocumented minors. Many of them have been injured, detained
or used as human shields. According to the information received, there
are approximately 2 million children in need of assistance in Syria
and over half a million in neighbouring countries, many of whom
are living in camps. The increasing number of arrivals in the camps
is putting added pressure on the available resources and having
various impacts, in particular in terms of access to education which
is becoming a little more limited, even though it is a vital activity.
51 The situation of these children varies according to the host
country. In Jordan, for instance, Zaatari, the largest camp, has
taken in minors, 20% of whom were aged under five years. In this
connection, UNICEF and Save the Children have established special
reception areas with playgrounds, sports fields, discussion groups and
art activities. I would underline here that, as I was able to see
for myself during my visit to Turkey, the children’s drawings serve
as kinds of outlets, as they very often depict scenes of violence.
I remember the picture of the 11-year-old Syrian refugee in Turkey
which went viral on social media. The child was crying and bleeding
because he had just been hit by a restaurant manager for trying
to eat a customer’s chips. That was a symbol of the suffering of
Syrian refugee children in Turkey. Naturally, the restaurant manager
52 While praise must go to the Turkish authorities for their
efforts and generosity in taking in the refugees, it has to be acknowledged
that the influx of refugees has caused tensions with some Turks.
One of the reasons is the increasing number of Syrian children to
be seen on the streets in big cities like Ankara and Istanbul, whose
only options are begging or scavenging for food.
53 The Turkish authorities have organised classes for the Syrian
children, but the teaching mainly takes place in the camps. The
children outside the refugee camps have become the forgotten victims
of the conflict. Donations are sent to the camps, whereas it is
those outside the camps who are in the greatest hardship and half
of the Syrian children in Turkey do not attend school. Admittedly,
some Turkish schools do cater for Turkish children for part of the
day and then for Syrian children for a few hours. However, they
are too small and do not have the financial resources for taking
in all the children. According to the information received, schools
have also become places of tension between Syrian and Turkish children,
with the latter feeling hard done by in relation to Syrian children
who get more attention from staff and the authorities. A further
problem is the fact that the Syrian families do not have enough
money to survive and even if some children may have the possibility
of going to school, they cannot do so because their families depend
on them for financial survival. If the children go to school, the
families have to do without additional income which they could earn
through begging. Moreover, sending children to school involves extra
costs, for instance for transport, which the families have difficulty
54 In the Syrian refugee camps in Iraqi Kurdistan, half of the
residents are aged under 17, and most have crossed the border illegally
to seek refuge in a country where their safety is no longer at risk.
55 Family reunification remains the primary objective. The utmost
efforts are made to try and find the children’s families – which
is a real challenge, given the number of refugees arriving every
day. An alternative is finding foster families.
56 Questions therefore hang over the future of young migrants
who have not found their parents or are stateless or orphaned.
57 The situation is also very insecure and often dangerous for
girls and young women. Men have tried to enter the camps and exert
pressure on young Syrian refugee women by offering them (early)
marriages as the price for financial security and physical protection.
Some of the women accept these marriages, which will often obscure
situations of sexual exploitation.
5 The situation of
internally displaced persons in Syria
58 Since the beginning of the conflict in March 2011,
some 6.5 million people have been displaced within the borders of
Syria and 190 000 killed. The situation is becoming an increasing
cause for concern, as it is estimated that approximately 10.8 million
people are in need of humanitarian assistance. According to the Internal
Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), about 6.8 million people
have been forced to abandon their homes and hence their means of
59 Attacks and raids by “IS” activists prevent access to these
displaced families, who are suffering increasingly from shortages
of food and medicine, cannot send their children to school and face
60 In this context, Syrian doctors, most of whom are members
of the Union of Syrian Medical Relief Organizations (UDSSM), who
recently met in Paris, have alerted the international community
to the “medical and humanitarian disaster” in Syria, along with
the disastrous consequences of the increasing shortage of doctors,
equipment and medicine and the re-emergence of diseases which had
been eradicated such as polio, tuberculosis, scabies and typhoid.
61 They point out that “the situation has become unbearable and
catastrophic and that many parts of Syria no longer have any medical
facilities”. In Aleppo, the second largest city in the country,
only five hospitals are functioning and there are only 30 doctors
from all specialist health fields who are still practising. In the
suburbs of Damascus, in an area which has been surrounded for two
years by loyalist forces, there is no means of getting any humanitarian
62 In Raqqa, which is the bastion of “IS” in northern Syria and
has a population of 1.6 million, there are no longer any obstetric,
gynaecological or paediatric services.
6 The urgent need
for food aid and for basic necessities
63 The scale of the humanitarian consequences is vast
and unprecedented. I would call again on the solidarity of the international
community to increase humanitarian aid in order to provide enough
water, food, health care and decent accommodation for the refugees.
64 To this end, I would reiterate my appeal for donors to continue
to pay funds to the World Food Programme so that local and international
bodies can respond properly to meet the basic needs of people affected
by the Syrian crisis, whose effects have been compounded since the
upsurge in the activities of “IS”.
65 For instance, according to information from the UNHCR, unregistered
refugees or those who have not pre-registered are not entitled to
health care. Furthermore, in northern Turkey, doctors have reported
that children are suffering from malnutrition and dehydration and
that there are no longer any ambulances to deal with emergencies.
7 Limited and varied
granting of asylum
66 Europe has a duty to react and help the Syrians.
European Union countries have imposed an airport transit visa for
Syrian nationals wishing to travel through their territory to reach
other States. Obtaining such visas is difficult, however, and the
measure enables States to send individuals who do not have them
back to the countries where they came from.
67 For those who manage to reach the European Union, the reception
they receive is not necessarily what they expected. Some countries
such as Germany and Sweden almost systematically grant protection,
but the same is not true in other EU States. For instance, the UNHCR
has expressed concern about States’ tendency to grant subsidiary
protection or leave of stay on humanitarian grounds rather than
68 In Greece, which is one of the main points of entry for Syrians,
they encounter many obstacles in terms of registering asylum applications,
and detention in conditions that often breach human rights is a
8 Resettlement as
a tool of solidarity
69 Following the influx of refugees, the UNHRC proposed
that States introduce a resettlement policy and a humanitarian admission
programme. The latter is aimed primarily at the most vulnerable
individuals and is modelled on the admission plan for Kosovars in
1999. It should be noted that resettlement involves the selection
and transfer of refugees from a State in which they have sought
protection to a third country that admits them as refugees with
a permanent residence status. Humanitarian admission is a process
which affords similar but fast-track protection in a third country
for refugees who are most vulnerable in a given region.
70 The success of these proposals depends on States’ commitment.
Unfortunately, the proposals concern only a tiny proportion of the
Syrian refugees. In particular, they concern individuals regarded
as vulnerable refugees who could make a contribution to the reconstruction
of Syria after the conflict or individuals who have family members
living in the country concerned.
71 Germany was the first country to volunteer to take in Syrian
refugees under the temporary admission programme. Over 40 000 Syrians
accordingly live in Germany and have been naturalised.
72 The United Kingdom has established a vulnerable person’s relocation
scheme for Syrian refugees and taken in 90 people. Ireland has launched
a Syrian humanitarian admission programme and has accepted 111 people.
I would like to take the opportunity to praise the initiative of
setting up a core group on Syrian resettlement comprised of resettlement
countries and chaired by Sweden, in co-operation with the UNHCR, which
enables the host countries to exchange information on the implementation
of the resettlement and humanitarian admission programmes for Syrian
73 I can therefore only encourage our Organisation’s member States
to follow these examples and can only endorse the call made by the
United Nations in December 2014 to donor countries to continue taking
in as many Syrian refugees as possible.
9 Conclusion and
74 In light of the growing numbers of acts of violence,
the Parliamentary Assembly has a duty to condemn them and call on
governments to unite to order the protagonists to put an end as
soon as possible to the massacres that are being carried out.
75 Member and non-member States of the Council of Europe must
do everything in their power to seek a means of restoring peace
to the region.
76 I would like to reiterate my appeal to the governments of
the Council of Europe member and observer States and States whose
parliaments enjoy observer or partner for democracy status with
the Parliamentary Assembly to help to prolong and to increase the
supplies of humanitarian aid and to boost the assistance they provide.
77 Lastly, it seems to me to be absolutely essential to remind
the European Union member States to implement 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 consequences thereof, and to ask all
States to show solidarity and a sense of shared responsibility.