UN seeks haven for 5,000 Syrian refugees
The UN refugee agency said Tuesday that it was seeking a haven for 5,000 vulnerable Syrians in countries outside the Middle East, calling on countries to match the number that Germany has pledged to take in.
"UNHCR is calling on other states to complement the German offer with a further 5,000 places for humanitarian admissions, enabling a total of up to 10,000 highly vulnerable Syrians to find safety elsewhere," the agency said in a statement.
It said that Germany, which is one of the largest refugee-receiving nations in the developed world, made the offer in March as numbers fleeing war-torn Syria continued to spiral.
In Berlin, an interior ministry spokesman said the first Syrians were due to arrive within weeks, under a programme worked out with the UNHCR.
"Germany leads with this commitment in Europe," the spokesman told AFP.
"The interior minister has campaigned for other European countries to follow Germany's example," he added.
UNHCR said earlier Tuesday that it was probing the issue with other nations, as it seeks to ease the burden on Syria's immediate neighbours, which are hosting 1.6 million refugees.
"We are working with governments, including European governments, to examine ways in which further admission programmes and or resettlement programmes for Syrians could be successfully used," said UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards.
Edwards did not elaborate on possible talks with the United States, where media reports have suggested a similar programme is on the cards.
But he noted that that country is the world's top destination for resettlement, as opposed to temporary asylum.
Edwards said that governments were due to hold talks in Geneva on potential resettlement programmes later this month or in early July.
He underlined, however, that resettlement was just one tool in crisis situations, and that most Syrians who have fled still wanted to go back when the fighting ends.
"Resettlement is a category that is normally reserved for very vulnerable groups, very vulnerable individuals," he said.
"In any resettlement programme from any country, you're talking about tiny numbers compared with the overall refugee population," he added.
There are some 80,000 resettlement places a year worldwide, compared with 15 million refugees, he noted.
"We're not at this stage announcing big resettlement programmes (for Syria). We're certainly nowhere near that at this moment," he added.
Refugee numbers have spiralled since the outbreak of fighting between rebels and the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in 2011, with most fleeing to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq, Syria's direct neighbours, as well as to Egypt.
"The Syria situation, with 1.6 million refugees in the region, is placing enormous pressure on the immediate surrounding countries. Nonetheless, the priority right now is to maintain asylum in that region," Edwards said.
The UN has warned that the total could reach 3.45 million this year.
"The focus is on finding whether we can broaden expressions of solidarity from other countries, to go beyond simply financial help," Edwards said.
© 2013 AFP