EU slammed by Amnesty over 'pitiful' Syrian refugee response

Member states fail to provide 'safe haven to the refugees who have lost all but their lives,' rights group says

Ninety-seven percent of Syrian refugees have fled to neighboring Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt.
Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images

European leaders should "hang their heads with shame" over their treatment of Syrian refugees fleeing the country's brutal conflict, Amnesty International said Friday.

In a briefing titled "An International Failure: The Syrian Refugee Crisis," the rights group stated that European Union member states have offered only about 12,000 places to Syrian refugees as part of the goal of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to secure 30,000 places.

"The EU has miserably failed to play its part in providing a safe haven to the refugees who have lost all but their lives," said Amnesty Secretary-General Salil Shetty. "The number of those it's prepared to resettle is truly pitiful."  

He called on EU leaders to open their borders, provide safe passage to those seeking refuge and refrain from "unlawful push-back operations" currently being employed to stop refugees from entering the continent.

Only 10 EU member states offered resettlement or humanitarian admission places to refugees from Syria, according to the report. Of the 12,000 places offered, 10,000 have been pledged by Germany. France has offered 500 places and Spain 30.

Eighteen EU member states — including the U.K. and Italy — have not pledged any places, according to the London-based NGO.

Amnesty said the slim chance of being granted asylum is forcing refugees to risk their lives by undertaking dangerous boat and land crossings.

The report also alleges that those who make it to Europe are often mistreated.

"In two of the main gateways to the EU, Bulgaria and Greece, refugees from Syria are met with deplorable treatment, including life threatening push-back operations along the Greek coast, and detention for weeks in poor conditions in Bulgaria," it said.

In the latter country, Amnesty said it had found refugees "living in squalid conditions in containers, a dilapidated building and in tents."

"It is deplorable that many of those who have risked life and limb to get here are either forced back or detained in truly squalid conditions with insufficient food, water or medical care," said Shetty.

About 55,000 Syrian refugees have managed to get through and seek asylum in the EU, according to the report.

Almost 97 percent of Syria's refugees — estimated by Amnesty to be 2.3 million in total — have fled to five neighboring countries since fighting began: Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.

The civil war, which has killed an estimated 126,000 people and driven millions from their homes, was sparked when the regime of President Bashar al-Assad launched a crackdown after a series of protests in March 2011.

Al Jazeera with wire services

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