Europe falls far short in helping Syrian refugees, rights group says

Syrian children stand in the snow in a refugee camp in the town of Arsal in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.
(Agence France-Presse / Getty Images)

LONDON — Europe has failed miserably to do its part to assuage Syria’s desperate refugee crisis, accepting a shamefully small number of people fleeing the civil war there and maltreating those who try to get in, Amnesty International said Friday.

Just five countries in the Middle East host 97% of the 2.3 million Syrians — half of them children — who have quit their homeland to escape the fighting. The European Union, by contrast, has so far pledged to take in only 12,340, less than 1%, even though the closest capital of the 28 EU nations, Nicosia on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, lies 200 miles from Damascus, Amnesty said in a scathing report released Friday.

“The EU and its member states must do more to provide assistance and protection to those who arrive in Europe, and to share the responsibility for hosting refugees more equally,” the report said.

The need is becoming especially acute for refugees living in tent camps and other primitive shelters as what is expected to be one of the region’s harshest winters in many years looms.


The five neighboring countries that have taken in the bulk of displaced Syrians are Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. The new arrivals have swelled Lebanon’s population by 19%, and Jordan’s by 9%, Amnesty said.

The report criticized “Fortress Europe” for policies and practices that repel arriving Syrians. It singled out Bulgaria and Greece, two main entry points, for their harsh treatment of refugees, including detaining them for long periods in squalid conditions or physically abusing them, confiscating their belongings and expelling them.

“The EU’s border-control policies are increasingly detrimental to the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants,” the report said. “While the EU has the right to control its borders, the manner in which it does so cannot result in human-rights violations — yet that is exactly what is happening.”

Many of those fleeing Syria had already braved perilous journeys by land and sea to reach Europe. In October, a ship out of Libya carrying mostly Syrian refugees sank on its way to Italy, killing at least 33 people and possibly several times that number.

Of the European nations that have offered to accept some refugees, Germany has been the most generous, pledging to take in 10,000. France has offered to receive 500, while 18 EU member states, including Italy and Britain, have made no commitments to host any.

(The Amnesty report noted that Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar also have declined to take in refugees, despite helping to bankroll rebels fighting in Syria’s civil war.)

British Prime Minister David Cameron rejected criticism that his country has done little to alleviate the plight of displaced Syrians, saying that there were other ways of assisting them.

“We are the second-largest bilateral donor behind America to Syria and the Syrian refugees,” Cameron said. “We’ve spent a huge amount of money making sure that people have somewhere to go, making sure they have water, making sure they have food and shelter .... Other European countries should now do more.”


The U.S. has pledged to accept an open-ended number of Syrians, the Amnesty report said.

Twitter: @HenryHChu