Thursday

20th Feb 2020

EU ministers prepare to resettle more Syrian refugees

Many more Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon may be resettled in the EU and other countries around the globe.

The plan is part of a broader declaration to be announced later this week when foreign affairs ministers gather in Luxembourg on Thursday (8 October) to discuss the flow of asylum seekers entering the EU from Turkey and the Western Balkans.

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"It is for the international community, not just the EU", an EU official said on Monday (5 October).

Officials from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Western Balkans, along with non-EU countries like Norway, will also be in attendance for Thursday's meeting, which is scheduled to last less than two hours.

The talks follow warnings from a top official from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), who said that Europe needs to prepare itself if the conflict in Syria is not resolved.

Half a million Iraqis may also flee from the city of Mosul if government forces attempt to wrest control from Islamic State.

On a global scale, the agency says that up to 1 million people fleeing war need to be hosted, the highest figure in 30 years.

But countries around the world have so far only pledged to resettle fewer than 100,000 Syrian refugees since 2013.

Germany pledged to resettle the most at 38,500. The UK proposed 20,000, France 1,000, Spain 130, and Hungary 30, among others.

The figures are dwarfed by the 4 million Syrians eking out an existence in overcrowded camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.

With no access to work and conditions worsening following a sharp funding shortfall to the World Food Progamme over the summer, many are seeking a future elsewhere.

The Associated Press reports that conditions are so bad at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan that some, with no means to pay smugglers, are now returning to Syria.

Others end up being smuggled from Izmir in Turkey to the Greek islands before heading up through Macedonia towards Croatia and Hungary.

Around 254 are known to have died crossing to the Greek islands. On Sunday, the bodies of two small children were found washed up on Kos.

It is hoped the bigger resettlement plan will help, in part, to undercut smuggler operations.

No numbers this time

But Thursday's ministerial in Luxembourg will not cite any specific numbers.

Instead, the broad declaration will ask for greater coordination and cooperation with Western Balkan countries, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and the EU.

"The aim of declaration is precisely to ensure that all countries act in a coordinated and cooperative manner and that is the main goal of [the] conference", said one EU official.

This includes stepping up border controls, the fight against organised crime, and the registration, reception and accommodation of asylum seekers in Western Balkan countries.

A second EU official said the conference is not a one-off but "is a process of engagement."

Concerns are now mounting that a recent escalation of the five-year war could force many more to flee Syria.

Last week, Russia began its aerial assault in Syria by bombing rebels opposed to Bashar al-Assad's regime. And over the weekend, Turkish F-16 jets intercepted a Russian warplane after it violated Turkish airspace.

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg on Monday said the airspace violation was "unacceptable".

"Russia's actions are not contributing to the security and stability of the region", he added.

The Thursday ministerial follows an official visit to Brussels by Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who last week described Russian intervention into Syria as "a grave mistake".

The controversial leader is set to receive a €1 billion injection from the EU to improve refugee camp conditions.

But he also wants to carve out a "safe zone" for displaced people in northern Syria.

EU officials, for their part, oppose the safe zone scheme.

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