BEIRUT: Seventeen countries including the United States, France and Australia have agreed to receive quotas of refugees fleeing the bloody conflict in Syria, the UN refugee agency said yesterday.
“So far, UNHCR has 17 countries participating in the Syria resettlement/Humanitarian Admission Programme effort,” Peter Kessler, regional spokesman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR, said. “They are offering about 10,000 places (in total), with some programmes mainly aimed at the 2014 calendar year,” he added.
The decision comes amid criticism of some Western nations for failing to share the burden created by the exodus of at least two million people from Syria. So far, Syria’s neighbours —Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq — have absorbed the majority of the refugees, but the influx has strained resources and caused tensions.
The problem is particularly acute in Lebanon, which currently hosts at least 760,000 registered refugees. The real number of Syrians in Lebanon, with its own population of four million, is probably closer to one million. “There are currently more than 2.1 million refugees,” Kessler said
Under the agreement, the UNHCR will assess refugees for relocation to the 17 host countries, giving priority to the most vulnerable, Kessler said. How many refugees each of the 17 countries will receive has not yet been decided, though reports in France have said it will take just 1,200 people.
Sweden, which is among the 17, has already said it will grant residence permits to Syrian refugees already in the country, but they cannot apply for asylum at Swedish embassies. Since early 2012, Sweden has received about 14,700 asylum applications from Syrians.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on the Emir of Kuwait to host a second donors’ conference to raise aid for Syrian refugees, the official Kuna agency said. Kuwait hosted the first donors’ conference in January, when participating nations pledged $1.5bn for refugees.
The Emir H H Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, who is on a private visit to the United States, received a phone call late on Tuesday from Ban who “expressed hopes... for Kuwait to host the second donors’ conference to support the humanitarian situation in Syria”, Kuna said.
The United Nations launched a record $5.2bn aid appeal in June to fund operations in Syria and neighbouring countries, warning the number of Syrians needing help because of the conflict could rise to over 10 million by the end of 2013.
The aid is for food, which accounts for one-fifth of the sum, clean water, medical care and schooling, as well as to build refugee camps. The UN appeal aims to raise $3.8bn for refugees and $1.4bn for operations in Syria. The refugee total is expected to swell to 3.5 million by the end of the year, according to the UN.
In a related development, the UN Security Council urged the Syrian government to allow cross-border aid deliveries and called on all parties to Syria’s conflict to agree on humanitarian pauses in fighting and key routes for aid convoys.
More than 2 million Syrians, mostly women and children, have fled during the civil war. Millions more inside Syria are in desperate need of help, but aid has slowed to a trickle because of violence and excessive red tape.
The 15-member Security Council agreed to a non-binding statement in a bid to boost aid access, drafted by Australia and Luxembourg. The statement urges Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s authorities to “take immediate steps to facilitate the expansion of humanitarian relief operations, and lift bureaucratic impediments and other obstacles”.