Over the last three years Syria has been rocked by a civil war that has shattered the lives of millions and killed more than 126,000 people, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. In the last 12 months alone, over 1.8 million Syrians have fled the country in search of safety, with many ending up in refugee camps which are ill prepared for the harsh winter, humanitarian workers said.
Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt have soaked up the majority of those fleeing Syria, giving refuge to over 2.3 million people who have registered with the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR). Enormous camps sprawl just across Syria’s borders, the largest of which - the Za’atari camp in Jordan - hosts more than 117,000 people.
But with no end in sight to the conflict, neighbouring states are beginning to buckle under the strain of their enormous refugee populations. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan recently said that Turkey spent some $2 billion to care for its 600,000-strong Syrian refugee population.
However, some say little has been done by the wider international community to address what risks to turn into a big humanitarian emergency. The European Union in particular was criticised by some for its perceived hesitancy to receive Syrian refugees.
“The EU has miserably failed to play its part providing a safe haven to the refugees who have lost all but their lives. The number of those prepared to resettle is truly pitiful,” Salil Shetty secretary general of Amnesty International, said in a statement.
“Tens of thousands are risking perilous journeys by boat or land to try and reach Europe. We have seen hundreds lose their lives,” he added.
EU member states have offered a total of 12,340 places for humanitarian resettlement for the growing refugee population, according to U.N. data.
So far, the European institute for statistics (EUROSTAT) has recorded that between January 2012 and November 2013, 64,750 Syrians applied for asylum in 36 European countries, 61,345 of which in European member states.
Germany was the most welcoming, pledging to accept 10,000 Syrians while 18,000 have formally applied for asylum in the country.
Britain has yet to offer any resettlement places for Syrian refugees. According to official data, 2,815 applications for asylum in the UK were filed by Syrians in the last two years.
After facing a long and, in many cases, perilous journey to escape violence in their country, Amnesty reported that many refugees who are taken in by some EU countries are then forced to live in extremely poor conditions, lacking basic care.
For example, the rights group found that refugees in Bulgaria were living without adequate sanitary facilities, bedding, food or healthcare.
“The EU must open its borders, provide safe passage and halt these deplorable human rights violations,” Shetty said. “Across the board European leaders should hang their heads in shame.”
Below is a map showing asylum applications to European countries by Syrian refugees between January 2012 and November 2013, and each country's matching pledge for resettlement.