A report by the EU border agency Frontex shows that most persons detected crossing irregularly into the EU between July and September 2013 were Syrians. A total of 13,963 Syrians submitted asylum applications in the third quarter of 2013, nearly double the number of applications in the previous quarter. More than two-thirds of the applications were submitted in Sweden, Germany and Bulgaria. The inflow of refugees from Syria is massive, according to Frontex: 42,618 migrants were detected crossing into the EU irregularly between July and September 2013 – almost twice the number in the same period in 2012 and much more than during the height of the 2011 Arab Spring.
Appeal from the UNHCR
Today, over 2.4 million people fleeing Syria, half of whom are children, are currently registered as refugees. In comparison, just 77,000 Syrians had sought protection in the EU, Norway and Switzerland by the end of 2013; representing only 3% of the total number of people who have fled. Because of the crisis, UNHCR recently asked that countries admit up to 30,000 Syrian refugees on resettlement, humanitarian admission, or other programmes by the end of 2014, with a focus on protecting the most vulnerable. States are encouraged to offer places for Syrian refugees in addition to their current resettlement quotas to ensure that resettlement opportunities also continue to be available for refugees from the rest of the world.
See the Appeal of UNHCR, February 2014, http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home/opendocPDFViewer.html?docid=52b2febafc5&query=syrian%20resettlement.
Swiss NGO Appeal to the Swiss government
In this context of dramatic humanitarian crisis, the Swiss asylum authorities are asked to make an additional gesture of solidarity towards Syrian refugees. Recently a very large group of Swiss NGOs have submitted a letter to Ms. Simonetta Sommaruga (Minister of the Department of Justice and Police, supervising the Federal Office of Migration) explaining why, to their views, Switzerland was not doing enough for Syrians and why it should consequently review its policy towards them (http://www.solinetz-zh.ch/appell-sommaruga/) (1).
– First, the Swiss authorities should admit a larger number of refugees in the resettlement agreement with the UNHCR: 5’000 refugees within 3 years instead of 500 as agreed in September 2013. The NGO group underlines that Sweden has undertaken a welcome policy towards Syrian refugees and that Germany has recently increased its UNHCR resettlement contingent to 10,000.
– Second, the Swiss authorities should facilitate the visa application procedure for Syrian refugees who have family members (with permit B or C) in Switzerland. Indeed from September to November 2013, Switzerland did follow a visa facilitation procedure, which ended in November as a major inflow was feared. Only 1’600 visas were given and today 5,000 application for visas are still « on hold ». This flip-flop in Switzerland’s policy towards Syrian refugees has had a dramatic effect on many families, as many people have moved to Turkey and Liban in order to submit their application, in vain.
As Antonio Guterres (head of the UNHCR) pointed out in his recent speech to the UN General Assembly (http://www.unhcr.org/530cc5f19.html) that the crisis is so dramatic that it could lead to an extension of the conflict in Syria’s neighboring countries:
Measured against the total population of Lebanon, the number of Syrian refugees currently registered there would be equivalent to nearly 15 million in France, 32 million in Russia or 71 million in the United States. By the end of this year, the World Bank estimates that unemployment in Lebanon may double, an additional 170,000 Lebanese risk being pushed into poverty and the total cost of the Syria crisis to the country could reach US$ 7.5 billion. I leave you to imagine the crushing economic and social effects such a situation would have on your own countries.
So if Swiss asylum authorities are concerned with the assistance and support it can provide to refugees once they are in Switzerland, which is a legitimate concern, Syrian refugees should be allowed in more easily on a humanitarian basis. This policy, if followed on a larger scale by other European countries, will certainly contribute to relieve the pressure on Syria’s neighboring countries, and may be avoid the risk of a spillover effect. Switzerland should follow the way of Sweden and Germany or lead the way for a greater concerted humanitarian policy towards people fleeing Syria.