UN Refugee agency calls on EU to provide asylum to more Syrians
The UN refugee agency criticized Europe Friday for only welcoming a "miniscule" number of Syrians inside its borders despite the fact that refugee numbers are set to exceed 3 million in the next few weeks, according to Reuters.
UNHCR chief spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said that while most Syrian refugees are in Syria's neighboring countries (Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and even Egypt), many are seeking to move to other countries that can provide more support.
"The trend is obvious now, they're moving beyond the neighboring countries. The neighboring countries have reached saturation point. And many Syrians are now seeking refuge in Europe and we're asking Europe to do more," said Fleming during a news briefing in Geneva.
Very few Syrian refugees have made it to Europe since the crisis began three years ago. Reuters reported that there are 123,600 asylum requests from Syrians for EU countires, but that the figure is largely overestimated due to the fact that many Syrians have filed for asylum in multiple EU countries.
"Relative to the 2.9 million refugees in the countries immediately surrounding Syria, these numbers are small, in fact they're miniscule. They represent only 4 percent of Syrian refugees," Fleming added.
"Just to put this into perspective, Europe has a population of 670 million people. Contrast that to Lebanon, which has a population of 4.4 million people and has received 1.1 million refugees."
While the EU collectively has been the global leader in humanitarian aid to Syrians affected by the war, stringent border practices have deterred many Syrians from entering the continent,with some Syrians in countries like Bulgaria and Spain detained and others sent back to the conflict (as in the case of Russia).
Fleming told Reuters that EU countries should champion a policy that admits "everyone who wants to come," which she emphasized was a very small minority of the overall refugee population since many refugees wished to reside in Arabic-speaking societies that they are familiar with.
"We're asking for other forms of protection which include family reunification, extending student visas, offering scholarships, all kind of different mechanisms that could allow for the admission of more Syrians," Fleming elaborated.