Human Rights First Welcomes U.S. Leadership at Syria Refugee Meeting

Geneva – Human Rights First welcomes today’s statement by Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns at a U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) meeting in Geneva to address the needs of Syrian refugees. Speaking before foreign ministers from around the world, Burns recognized the generosity of host governments and called for the international community to increase humanitarian assistance inside Syria, to increase support to governments and communities hosting Syrian refugees, and to provide more comprehensive protection to particularly vulnerable populations, including women, children, and refugees living outside of camps. The United States is the leading donor to the crisis, having contributed more than  $1.3 billion to respond to the humanitarian needs inside Syria as well as to assist Syrian refugees in the region.

“We welcome U.S. leadership in advocating for access to protection for Syrian refugees,” said Human Rights First’s Duncan Breen, who is in Geneva for this week’s meetings. “While host countries have been generous in hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees, individuals fleeing the Syrian conflict should not be denied access to international protection, and the United States and other donors need to speak out against this.”

On Friday, Human Rights First called for strong U.S. leadership, including speaking out against border closures or restrictions. As the Syrian crisis becomes protracted, some governments have increasingly taken steps to restrict access to protection, including: closing border crossings, restricting the number of refugees who can cross each day; refusing to allow Syrians without identity documents to seek asylum; denying entry to specific populations such as Iraqi refugees or Palestinians who were living in Syria; or introducing new difficult-to-fulfill visa requirements. In today’s statement Burns, while recognizing the challenges of hosting vast numbers of refugees, urged “host countries to refrain from restricting or closing their borders, and to offer refuge to all those fleeing the conflict, including vulnerable Palestinian and Iraqi refugees from Syria.”

UNHCR High Commissioner António Guterres also called for states to share responsibility for providing protection for Syrians outside of the region, including through resettlement. In today’s meeting, a number of countries including Canada, Norway, Finland, and Switzerland announced increases in the number of Syrians they will resettle.

“As discussions around supporting Syria’s neighbors continue, the United States, as the global leader in resettling refugees, should make a firm commitment to increase its own resettlement of Syrian refugees to the United States, and to address potential bars to protection for Syrian refugees under U.S. immigration law,” said Breen.

The United States should continue, and step up, its efforts to support access to international protection by taking the following steps:

  1. Investigate reports of refugees being prevented from crossing to safety and consistently raise these concerns with Syria’s neighbors.
  2. Continue to provide humanitarian and development aid to support host countries and host communities and step up diplomatic efforts to encourage other donor countries to support states hosting refugees.
  3. Increase the resettlement of Syrian refugees as a means of demonstrating support for Syria’s neighbors as well as providing a new life for some of the most vulnerable refugees affected by the crisis.

Published on September 30, 2013


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