BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Countries in Europe and Latin America should take in more Syrian refugees as neighbouring host countries are struggling to cope with the influx of almost 5,000 people fleeing Syria’s civil war every day, the United Nations Refugee Agency said on Monday.
Almost one-third of Syria’s population has been forced to flee their homes, the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says, with 2 million people seeking refuge in neighouring countries and at least 4.25 million displaced inside the country.
Of the 2 million Syrian refugees, Lebanon hosts more than any other country in the region with more than 700,000, followed by hundreds and thousands settling in Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.
“Capacities of host countries and communities have been stretched to the limit. In recent months, this has led several governments to manage their borders more strictly, affecting refugees’ access to safety and humanitarian assistance,” said Felipe Camargo, who until recently was UNHCR’s assistant representative for coordination in Lebanon and now heads the agency’s office in Colombia.
”We are already two and a half years into this crisis, and we have yet to see a positive increase in (the Syrian refugee) quota.”
Pressure is piling on authorities in Lebanon to provide basic humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees, the majority women and children, in the country.
Most refugees live in the poorest areas of Lebanon - often in rented accommodation or with host Lebanese families - where employment and poverty rates were already high before large numbers of refugees started to pour in, UNHCR says.
“About 25 percent of the Lebanese population is Syrian. It’s a desperate situation in Lebanon as far as the capacity of the country to provide basic services like healthcare and education. The most desperate need is shelter and for the government to provide enough land to settle refugees,” said Camargo.
To ease the pressure on host neighouring countries, UNHCR in June appealed for other countries to take in 10,000 refugees. Since then, European countries have pledged to resettle more than 1,650 refugees from 2013 to 2014, Camargo said. The U.S. has indicated it is willing to consider an additional unspecified number of cases, Camargo added.
“The response so far has been pretty limited. European countries have been generous in financial response but accepting more Syrians in country has been limited so far,” he told Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview in Bogota.
Relocating refugees beyond Syria’s neighouring countries only started 10 days ago, said Camargo, when UNHCR relocated 107 refugees from Lebanon to Germany.
“Germany is one of the leading countries in Europe in terms of numbers of Syrian refugees. It has agreed to a quota of 4,000 refugees.”
UNHCR is also urging Latin America to help.
“We are also requesting Latin American countries to consider not only providing support but to find a limited quota for Syrian refugees,” said Carmago.
Brazil hosts the highest number of Syrian refuges in Latin America, totalling 232 refugees, many of whom are living in Sao Paulo.