Thursday, 17 April 2014

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Syrian refugees meet Sweden's open arms

 Photo: Flickr / Wilkristin / 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

24 February 2014 - Sweden, alongside Germany, stands out as an extraordinary host country, and the only one which has announced that all Syrians seeking asylum would be granted permanent residency.

No other country in the EU has followed Sweden's lead, despite the fact that the worst refugee crisis since World War II is unfolding on Europe's doorstep. The mass flight from Syria has brought an increasing number of refugees to Sweden. Last year, 16 317  Syrian citizens applied for residence permit in Sweden (54 259 in total, of which a third were Syrians).

Syrian new asylum applications

Top 5 countries EU (28) Since conflict began

% of all new asylum applications

Apr-Dec 2011

2012

Jan-Oct2013

Sweden

22,712

2%

18%

29%

Germany

20,197

6%

10%

11%

Bulgaria

4,937

12%

35%

64%

United Kingdom

3,439

2%

5%

7%

Austria

2,966

3%

5%

11%


Source: UNHCR

UNHCR has proposed that countries admit up to 30,000 Syrian refugees on resettlement, humanitarian admission, or other programmes by the end of 2014, with a focus on protecting the most vulnerable. States are encouraged to offer places to Syrian refugees in addition to their current resettlement quotas to ensure that resettlement opportunities also continue to be available for refugees from the rest of the world.

Resettlement involves the selection and transfer of refugees from a State, in which they have sought protection, to a third State which has agreed to admit them as refugees. Humanitarian admission is a similar, but expedited process providing a solution for those in greatest need.

According to Amnesty International, the European Union member states have only offered to open their doors to around 12,000 of the most vulnerable refugees from Syria, meaning only 0.5 per cent of the 2.3 million people who have fled the country.

Antonio Guterres, UN commissioner for refugees, stated in an interview with the Guardian: "While countries neighbouring the conflict are being asked to keep their borders open, I find it disconcerting how many Syrians struggle to find protection in Europe, with reports of people being pushed back from a number of borders. And all this is happening although the overall numbers are small in comparison – Turkey alone has received 10 times the number of Syrian refugees as all EU member states together."

The other Nordic hosts

In December 2013, the Finnish authorities stated that Finland will host 500 Syrian refugees in 2014. The usual amount of quota refugees Finland usually hosts annually has been 750, which this year will be increased to 1050 – of which 500 thus will come from Syria, says Kaisa Väkiparta from the Finnish Refugee Council .This remains a strikingly low number compared to its Western neighbour Sweden,– but one has to distinguish between spontaneous asylum applications, which has been the case for Sweden (almost 23 000), and the quota refugees – of which Sweden will host 400.

For a refugee to seek asylum in Finland, the obstacles are many compared to the other Nordic countries, the first being reaching Finland altogether. As Finland does not issue visas for Syrians, it is impossible for a person who has fled from Syria to e.g. Turkey, to fly from Istanbul to Helsinki. The only way to enter Finland is illegally, whether through other Schengen states or by passing through Russia.

Norway has decided on an additional quota of 1000 syrian refugees on top of the usual annual quota of 1200 resettlement refugees. Amnesty International has called on Norway to take in at least 5000 of the most vulnerable refugees from Syria in addition to the annual quota.

Denmark stands out as the Nordic country which will take in the least Syrian refugees. Denmark received 2.875 Syrian asylum seekers between April 2011 – December 2013. In 2014, Denmark has agreed to host 140 Syrian quota refugees.

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