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Last Updated: 09/15/2015
Syrian Refugee Crisis: A Call to Action
Daniel Bagheri Sarvestani

Tags: Canada, Syria, Hungary, Refugee crisis, human Rights

It was not long ago that the Canadian government was advocating for stronger measures against the regime of Bashar Assad and asking the international community to step-up their efforts to protect the people of Syria. Yet very little tangible action has yet to be seen on part of the Canadian government and other major Sates in providing humanitarian assistance to the war stricken people of Syria. While NATO, EU and Canada were jumping at a chance to bomb Libya back in 2011 and advocating for military intervention in Syria (for “humanitarian reasons” ) it is indeed very disillusioning to witness how they all seem unable and notable unwilling to deal with the ensuing refugee crisis that wars often entail. How soon we advocate for war abroad but are unwilling to deal with it consequences.

The current unfolding refugee crisis is not an unforeseen event. This was predicted by many long before the crisis had hit European capitals early 2015. In fact, the mass displacement of people had already started with the illegal invasion of Iraq and the ensuing decade of conflict in that country, and later with the intervention in Libya that saw the fall of Kaddafi and the waging of deadly proxy war In Syria. At least since 2012, the international community had more or less watched as millions of displaced people had to flee their homes in these nations and in particular Syria due the effects of intensifying wars and the rise of criminal groups like ISIS. And while Governments are quick to arm opposing sides to begin a campaign of bloodshed and destruction, most remain passive to assist in humanitarian efforts.

Since the start of the war in Syria, more than half of the country’s population of 20 million have been displaced (Thibos, 2014). That is to say, approximately 12 million civilians have been forced to flee their homes as a result of war. Out of the approximate 12 million, 8 million people have been dispersed throughout Syria itself as internally displaced people (IDP), while nearly 4 million have fled to neighboring countries as refugees – mainly to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan (Silvia, et al., 2015). Now while the events unfolding in Europe are indeed catastrophic, it is important to bear in mind that a relatively small number of around 250,000 Syrian refugees have applied for asylum in the EU zone (UNHCR, 2015). For a region that comprises virtually the entirety of continental Europe, this is a relatively small, but no less tragic, number when compared to the total number of refugees most Middle Eastern countries have had to host since long before 2011.

However, In the face of these calamities, Europe and the international community had remained silent despite desperate calls for assistance by humanitarian organization and agencies on the ground. The rapidly deteriorating refugee conditions in the Middle East, due to over population and lack of infrastructure, was met with little to no assistance by the very countries that often parade the flag of democracy and humanitarian interventionism in that part of the world. Yet it was only a matter of time before the turmoil in Middle East would come to European capitals. The continued lack of solidarity with the region and Europe’s unwillingness to take in Syrian asylum seekers is only intensifying the situation and adding to the humanitarian crisis as refugees are denied entry, forced into crowded holding centers, and denied some of their most basic rights (Berti, 2015).

Likewise, Canada cannot remain idle for sooner or later the refugee crisis abroad will also knock at our door. We cannot run from situations of grave concern to humanity. The unpreparedness and the unwillingness of the EU to accommodate Refugee populations within its borders speaks to the ignorance of EU policy makers in not foreseeing the inevitable and making appropriate measure to secure the safe passage and accommodation of Syrian refugees. Currently, less than 2% of the total refugee population of Syria are granted asylum in Europe. There are no effective mechanisms to enable a large majority of, Europe bound, refugees for a safe passage into European safe zones (Amnesty International, 2015). There are additionally no effective policies on part of the EU to enable refugees to legally apply for asylum from outside of Europe (Amnesty International, 2015). Thus many refugees are forced to travel to Europe illegally and often through extremely dangerous means which tend to result in mass tragedies. The lack of effective policy and plan to assist refugee population is most certainly one of the underlying causes of the plight of refugees that we are witnessing in the EU on a daily basis.

It is important to know, that aiding and assisting people fleeing from war and refugees is not a case of charity but rather an obligation that nation states hold under international law (Kate & Marilyn, 2001). No refugee should be denied entry or deprived their fundamental rights as guaranteed under various international conventions, and human rights instruments. Every refugee claimant is entitled to humane treatment and must be given their dignity and care as a requirement of their human rights. It is the obligations of states to host incoming refugees, facilitate them, provide safety and ensure their protection as necessitated under various refugee rights conventions and various international legal instruments including: the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, various UN protocols, the mandate of UNHCR, … and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. All of which Canada is a party to (Kate & Marilyn, 2001).

With this in mind we urge the Canadian government to take specific measure aimed at hosting Syrian refugees and to provide an efficient avenue for asylum seekers to process their application to Canada. Taking clear steps in preparing a mechanism to specifically answer to the Syrian refugee crisis will help Canada to effectively meet its human rights obligations towards incoming Syrian refugees and further bolster Canada’s Humanitarian role internationally. It may be appropriate to consider setting up a special program to take in greater number of Syrian refugees to lessen the pressures faced by countries that do not have the capacity to provide for the masses of refuges that are already flocking to their borders. As of yet Canada does not have any program or effective policy that would suggest the government is doing anything to help with the situation. It would be wise for the Canadian government not to make the same mistake that the EU has made and is now having to face.

Works Cited

Amnesty International. (2015). THE GLOBAL REFUGEE CRISIS A CONSPIRACY OF NEGLECT. London: Amnesty International.

Berti, B. (2015). The Syrian Refugee Crisis: Regional and Human Security Implications. Strategic Assessment, Volume 17, No. 4 , 41-51.

Kate, J., & Marilyn, A. (2001). REFUGEE PROTECTION: A Guide to International Refugee Law. UNHCR.

Silvia, H., Laguardia, D., Gabriella, T., Ricardo, S., Zaid, M., Jolanda, V. D., et al. (2015). UNHCR UNHCR and the Response to Syrian Refugees in Jordan and Lebanon. Brussels: UNHCR.

Thibos, C. (2014). State of Play and Outlook of the Syrian Crisis. Mediterranean Yearbook 2014, 1-7.

UNHCR. (2015). 2015 UNHCR regional operations profile - Europe. UNHCR Global Appeal 2015 Update.

Daniel B. Sarvestani, is a correspondent for the Peace&Conflict Monitor and a graduate of the UN mandated University for Peace, with an MA in International law and human rights. He is an analyst of Middle Eastern affairs with a focus on the rights of indigenous people and nomadic tribal cultures. Much of his work has been dedicated towards reintegrating indigenous perspectives within modern scholarship and challenging Eurocentric basis.