Syria remains a deadly and hostile country while its civil war is underway. This means civilians continue to require protection and refugees will need assistance in terms of resettlement and safe passage to third countries.
From its pre-conflict population of 20.5 million, 6.15 million people are internally displaced and 13.5 million people need humanitarian assistance.
By the end of October 2017 there were 5.31 million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries.
Conditions for refugees remain precarious and there are a number of risks for those who reside in camp settings, including:
Lack of access to psychological support.
Protection concerns for unaccompanied minors.
Sexual and gender-based violence.
Poor health and bad hygiene.
Lack of protection to harsh weather conditions.
Limited financial resources.
While funding from donors to help humanitarian organisations is still vital and allows for much needed protection and assistance mechanisms to be put in place, there can be no alternative to asylum and resettlement to allow refugees to continue their lives and enjoy their full entitlement to rights in as safe an environment as possible.
In 2015, the EU asked 27 countries to take 160,000 refugees but by September 2017 only 29,162 had been taken in. The UK, who was not part of this scheme eventually agreed to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020 through its own national Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement Programme (VPRP).
However, many refugees are still making dangerous journeys from their country of origin, which exacerbates their suffering.
That’s why more safe and legal pathways are needed to ensure protection of Syrian refugees.
The UK position
The UK government settled on accepting 20,000 Syrian refugees. There has been opinion that the UK should accept more. The UK government has made clear though that it prefers to provide humanitarian funding to support those within the country believing that offering resettlement would encourage people to make the dangerous journey to the UK.
While aid can help attend to urgent needs there are many hard to reach areas in Syria, including those that are besieged. That means that humanitarian convoys can be denied entry. And so-called safe zones cannot truly protect the civilian population who have suffered disproportionately from the conflict. In addition Syrians are at risk of sexual violence, enforced disappearances and forced conscription as well as the recruitment of child soldiers. Evidence of torture and extra-judicial executions have also been uncovered.
The VPRP gives those under it ‘refugee status’, which affords more benefits to them than the previous prescribed ‘humanitarian protection’ status. This change in status is certainly positive.
Participation in the VPRP by local authorities in the UK is voluntary. In the year ending March 2017, 235 out of 418 local authorities in the UK had accepted refugees under the VPRP. The devolved administrations are coordinating their response separately to England.
Those eligible for the VPRP are identified by UNHCR and those who register with the agency can indicate if they’d be interested in being resettled under the VPRP. Refugees are then prioritised according to vulnerability, and then undergo a two-tier vetting process.
In addition there are two other pathways for Syrians to stay in the UK. One is that it is possible for Syrians to claim asylum upon arrival or after entry to the UK. In the year ending March 2017, 86% of initial asylum decisions in Syrian cases gave permission to remain in the UK – one of the highest rates of recognition. The other is a temporary concession that allows Syrian nationals in the UK to apply for an extension to their existing visa or change the category of their visa.
There are various practical and legal challenges to reaching the UK however. The absence of legal routes exacerbates refugees’ vulnerability and may undermine efforts to stop them making the dangerous journeys often at the hands of people smugglers.
Therefore, the UK and other states should implement measures that would ensure safer and legal pathways to migrate.
This could be done in a number of ways.
Safe and legal pathways
Resettlement/humanitarian admission schemes
The UK is currently operating the VPRP, which offers resettlement to Syrian refugees prioritised according to vulnerability criteria. However, local authorities who operate voluntarily have pledged places in excess of the designated number of 20,000.
The UK should allow all pledges to be fulfilled to minimise irregular migration methods to be used.
Humanitarian visas are visas that enable the holder to travel to claim asylum overseas without having to make dangerous journeys out of their country of origin.
Instead they are applied for at consular posts either within the country of origin or other points on their migratory route. On acceptance they can then take a legal and safe mode of transport to their destination country.
The UK does not offer humanitarian visas and neither does the EU. However, this has been argued to be a major solution to many of the ills related to forced migration particularly in the current context of the European refugee crisis. That includes deaths at sea, people smuggling or overcrowding on the Greek hotspots who are made up in large part by Syrian refugees.
Medical evacuation could allow for refugees with urgent medical needs to be treated in a third country. This would remove the challenges for families who cannot afford medical treatment and sacrifice other essential needs such as food, rent and education.
The UK could admit those with serious medical conditions to help share the burden of responsibility with host countries.
Family reunion is a key protection mechanism which not only reunites divided families but provides a safe and legal route to the UK and away from harm.
Under UK asylum policy, people can apply for family reunification however it is only applicable to a nuclear family definition. For many people the family extends beyond this narrow interpretation and can include other dependent relatives.
The UK could extend this definition and pass the private members bill – Refugees (Family Reunion) (No. 2) Bill 2017-19.
Community based private sponsorship
Community based private sponsorship means that sponsors take responsibility for some of the costs associated with resettling individuals.
In the UK, the Community Sponsorship initiative matches refugees who arrive through the resettlement programme with community sponsors who assist them through settlement and integration.
This can go one step further like in Canada where private groups can identify refugees for resettlement and then seek government approval for their admission. This then happens outside of current resettlement quotas.
In addition, academic scholarships and labour mobility schemes can also facilitate safe and legal pathways for Syrian nationals.
A change in approach
At the moment asylum in the UK can only be applied for on arrival and Ministers have indicated no intention to change the rules.
Visitor visas are also being increasingly rejected and Syrians must have a transiting visa if transiting through the UK to another country.
More work needs to be done at both the UK and EU level to ensure Syrian refugees are protected.
Enhancing safe and legal methods for this is one key way in which this can happen with relatively little derision from the current impact to the UK.
Oxfam forced to suspend Ebola response in DR Congo following pre-election violence
Oxfam has been forced to suspend its work in the Ebola ravaged areas of Beni and Butembo, due to vio..
Oxfam has been forced to suspend its work in the Ebola ravaged areas of Beni and Butembo, due to violent protests following the announcement that people in these areas wont be able to cast their votes for a new president, when the rest of country goes to the polls this Sunday.
Raphael Mbuyi, Oxfams acting Country Director in the DRC said: “This is an extremely worrying situation, as every time the Ebola response has been suspended before weve seen a big spike in the number of new cases. This could mean Ebola spreading to even more people and potentially other countries in the region, putting many more lives at risk.
“However, its not surprising that people who have had their votes taken away at the last minute are frustrated and going to the streets. These people deserve to have their say as well.
“All parties need to find a way for people who have been devastated by Ebola and have lived through decades of violent conflict, to cast their vote.
“Whatever the outcome, there needs to be an end to the years of misery people in this country have had to endure. Just because elections are being held does not mean there will be peace.”
Notes to editors
Spokespeople available for interview in Kinshasa, DRC and in the UK.
For more information or to request an interview, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call +44 (0)1865 472498.
For updates, please follow @Oxfam.
Gaza’s water crisis is ‘a ticking time bomb’
Reporter Sandy Tolan – In the Middle East’s Gaza Strip, a narrow piece of contested land where three..
Reporter Sandy Tolan – In the Middle East’s Gaza Strip, a narrow piece of contested land where three out of four people are refugees, unsafe drinking water has led to a worsening health crisis. Gazan children suffer from diarrhea, kidney disease, stunted growth and impaired IQ.
Twenty years ago, 85 percent of Gazas drinking wells were too contaminated for human consumption. Today, that figure is 97 percent.
Local tap water is too salty to drink because the aquifer below Gaza has been over-pumped so severely that seawater is flowing in. Two-thirds of Gazans get water delivered by truck. Desalinated water is pumped into rooftop tanks via hoses. But the desalinated water is unregulated and because this water has virtually no salt, its prone to fecal contamination. When children drink this water, they get diarrhea.
Repeated bouts of diarrhea can lead to stunting and developmental problems, including a measurable impact on IQ. Late last year a British medical journal found an “alarming magnitude”of stunting among Gazan children.
Children drink and fill water jugs at a mosque in Gaza City.
Credit: Abdel Kareem Hanna/The World
“If you really want to change the lives of people, you have to solve the water issue first,” says Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesperson for UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees. “Otherwise, you will see a huge collapse of everything in Gaza.”
“It’s a ticking time bomb,” agrees Gidon Bromberg, director of EcoPeace Middle East, based in Tel Aviv. “We have a situation where two million people no longer have access to potable groundwater. When people are drinking unhealthy water … disease is a direct consequence. Should pandemic disease break out in Gaza, people will simply start moving to the fences of Israel and Egypt, and they won’t be moving with stones or with rockets. Theyll be moving with empty buckets, desperately calling out for clean water.”
Assigning blame for the plight of Gazans is not exactly simple. Take the fact that only three percent of Gazas drinking water wells are actually drinkable. Is that because Gazas citrus farmers pumped too much? Or because Israeli agricultural settlers depleted a deep pocket of fresh water before they left Gaza in 2005? Or the simple fact that Gazas population quadrupled in a matter of weeks when towns and villages fell to Israel in 1948?
Food- and water-borne diseases have also been a concern — the power is shut off for 20 hours a day. Are Israel and Egypt to blame for withholding fuel deliveries? Or Israel, for bombing water and sewage infrastructure in Gaza during the 2014 war? Or the fight between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, which deprives Gazans of critical medicines? Israels economic blockade of Gaza contributes to worsening poverty, skyrocketing unemployment and child malnutrition, according to several human rights groups.
A peace deal could have connected Gaza to the West Bank, where the vast Mountain Aquifer is big enough to end Gazas water crisis. As it is, there is no peace. The two Palestinian territories are splintered. And Israel has effective control over all the water.
Critics say Israel could solve the whole problem by simply implementing power lines into Gaza. But Israeli officials say they are already sending water to Gaza and to do more would be rewarding Gazas bad actors.
“What’s going on in Gaza is a real catastrophe,” says Ori Shor, spokesperson of the Israeli Water Authority. “The situation there is unbearable. But it’s also frustrating, at least from our point of view, because it’s a bit difficult to help someone who doesn’t want to help themselves. The problem in Gaza is really that Hamas does nothing to try even to solve the problem.”
Shor says Israel is providing more than twice the amount of water they are obligated to provide based on current agreements. But that amount is just a fraction of the clean water Gazans need every day.
Fifteen members of the Nimnim family at home in the Beach refugee camp.
Credit: Abdel Kareem Hanna/The World
As the situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate, humanitarian groups estimate that Gaza will become uninhabitable by 2020 — barely a year from now. To avoid that, international relief agencies and the Palestinian Water Authority are working on a network of big sewage and desalination plants.
Donors have pledged $500 million to build out this network. But one large obstacle remains: On most days, Gaza has electricity for only four hours, which makes running these projects almost impossible.
“At this time, we dont have [enough electricity], but we hope,” says Kamal Abu Moammar, manager of the Southern Gaza Desalination Plant. “Many of our ministers say they will solve this problem. But we don’t know when. Or how.”