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UNHCR today calls on European countries to strengthen their response to the Syrian crisis. In a new report Syrian Refugees in Europe: What Europe can do to Ensure Protection and Solidarity UNHCR is urging states to ensure access to territory, including fair and efficient asylum procedures, to provide adequate reception conditions and to actively adopt other measures which can provide protection and safety for refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria.
An increasing number of Syrians are now seeking safety in countries beyond the immediate region. Many are embarking on long and dangerous journeys to reach safety and in some cases to reunite with family members already in Europe.
Since the conflict began in March 2011, some 123,600 Syrians have sought asylum in Europe, 112,170 of these in the European Union, Norway and Switzerland. Relative to the 2.9 million refugees in countries immediately neighbouring Syria these numbers remain small: Only four per cent of Syrian refugees have sought asylum in European countries, excluding Turkey, since the conflict began. Across Europe 6,400 Syrians applied for asylum in 2011; 23,400 in 2012; 51,500 in 2013 and 30,700 from January to May 2014.
In the EU, Syrian asylum-seekers are mostly concentrated in a few states: Sweden and Germany received 56 per cent of all new Syrian asylum applications and the top five receiving countries (Sweden, Germany, Bulgaria, Switzerland and the Netherlands) received almost 70 per cent.
The number of Syrians arriving to Europe by sea increased in 2013, with Syrians as one of the main nationalities of those rescued in the Mediterranean (11,307 in Italy alone in 2013).
A high number of Syrians arrive to many European States with the intention to travel onward to other destinations. Reasons behind the onward movement are diverse and complex: inadequate reception conditions, difficulties accessing the asylum procedure, family links in other countries, and better assistance and integration prospects in other countries - perceived or real.
Today's report urges countries across Europe to implement a comprehensive response based on their responsibilities under international and regional law and to clearly demonstrate solidarity with countries in the region. This includes enhancing legal ways for Syrian refugees to reach Europe.
UNHCR welcomes the positive practices of many European states in their treatment of Syrians, including the de facto moratorium on returns to Syria, access to asylum procedures in most countries and the high protection rates granted to Syrians.
The report also highlights some gaps and practices that concern UNHCR. These include pushbacks at land and sea borders which have been reported in Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Spain, Albania, Montenegro, the Russian Federation, Serbia and Ukraine, slow access to effective asylum procedures, inadequate reception conditions, backlogs in asylum procedures, barriers to family reunification, the lack of mechanisms to identify and assist asylum-seekers with vulnerabilities, and use of detention.
UNHCR is encouraging countries to look at all options, including resettlement, admission programmes based on humanitarian needs, admission schemes based on private sponsorship, and the use of other legal programmes, for example student or employment visas.
UNHCR also urges states to facilitate family reunification in a pro-active manner, including for extended family members of Syrians who have already been granted some form of protection in Europe.
European countries have to date offered 31,817 places for resettlement, humanitarian and other forms of admission for refugees from Syria.
The full report is available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/53b69f574.html
For more information on this topic, please contact:In Geneva, Melissa Fleming on mobile +41 79 557 9122 In Geneva, Dan McNorton on mobile +41 79 217 3011 in Geneva, Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120