Global: protect refugees now more than ever

Thursday, 26 November 2015 09:16 GMT

A family of Syrian refugees passing through Croatia. Nearly half of all Syrian refugees are children (Sergi Camara / Jesuit Refugee Service)

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Rome, 26 November 2015 – The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) expresses its sorrow over the death of so many innocent people in the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut, Mail and elsewhere. With the subsequent rise in xenophobia and islamophobia, we remind host communities and governments that closing the doors to refugees or blocking resettlement processes is a breach of international law and the principle of non-refoulement, or not pushing back people in need of protection. 

These brutal acts were a direct assault on the fundamental international rights of freedom, security and dignity. “It is important to remember that people coming to [host countries] right now –Syrians and others– are fleeing the same situations. They have left barrel bombs in Aleppo; they have left random attacks in Iraq, in other parts of the world. They’re coming to escape what has unfortunately coming to [host countries.] They want to enjoy the same freedoms we enjoy,” said JRS International Director, Fr Thomas Smolich.

What terrorists hope to instill through these attacks is hatred and intolerance, destroying the value of solidarity. Instead, together with the other members of the European Council for Refugees and Exiles, we call host countries to uphold their legal obligations under the Refugee Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to welcome refugees and recognise their right to asylum.

JRS has been since long calling for safe routes for those who seek refuge in Europe. Today more than ever, we call upon host countries –the EU and USA in particular– to urgently put in place mechanisms like access to humanitarian visas, resettlement and family reunification which can provide sanctuary to those in need, while maintaining security. At the same time, this strategy will reduce the demand for smugglers. 

According to the Syrian Humanitarian Needs Overview presented by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there are 13.5 million Syrians in need; 75 percent of Syrians are living in poverty – 66 percent in extreme poverty. In Aleppo, access to water is being used as a weapon of war, where deliberate cuts to water supply by opposing parties have left civilians in dire situations.

Syrians are running out of options. People are often displaced multiple times and have no means of coping. People are turning to negative alternatives, such as children begging, etc. In 88 of the 150 governorates, the chief protection strategy is preparation to flee Syria. Many lack of civil documents, which makes flight more difficult; families are separated and children are often going off to work.

All Syrians, regardless of race, religion or location are subject to the same violence. No one group emerges as more vulnerable than others, and thus any targeted interventions of aid will not work. There is no correlation between the types of needs and the group controlling the territory. According to the UN refugee agency, approximately 1.7 million refugees have fled to Lebanon. The USA and European states must help share that burden. 

In addition to welcoming Syrians, we call host countries to remember approximately half of refugees coming to Europe are non-Syrian. However, they are similarly fleeing from violence and persecution and the same protection mechanisms should be granted to refugees from all countries. JRS discourages the EU from creating a list of ‘safe countries’, which limit the ability of individuals to fairly make their asylum case.  

We should embrace refugees as fellow human beings, and maintain our commitment to offering sanctuary to those seeking protection from persecution and conflict. The strategy to foster a culture of encounter as the best arm against radicalism, is underlined with powerful words by Pope Francis his message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees for 2016:

"At this moment in human history, marked by great movements of migration, identity is not a secondary issue. Those who migrate are forced to change some of their most distinctive characteristics and, whether they like or not, even those who welcome them are also forced to change. How can we experience these changes not as obstacles to genuine development, rather as opportunities for genuine human, social and spiritual growth, a growth which respects and promotes those values which make us ever more humane and help us to live a balanced relationship with God, others and creation?"

--written in cooperation with Amaya Valcarcel, Head of Advocacy and Policy at JRS International