Syria falls apart… but Britain offers no places at all to refugees

Britain was accused of failing in its responsibility to Syria today, after Amnesty International criticised its failure to offer a single place to refugees fleeing the fighting.

The UK has failed to participate in any refugee programme, leaving just ten EU states offering places – and even then only 12,000.

"The EU has miserably failed to play its part in providing a safe haven to the refugees who have lost all but their lives," secretary general of Amnesty International Salil Shetty said.

"The number of those it's prepared to resettle is truly pitiful. Across the board European leaders should hang their heads in shame." 

The refusal of EU countries to help has increased the pressure on Bulgaria, which is appealing for financial help to Brussels after 6,000 Syrians reached the country this year alone.

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Comment: If Britain really cares about Syria, it will open its doors to refugees

More than 2.5 million people have left Syria since the outbreak of the civil war – the largest movement of people since the Second World War.

Some 5,000 Syrians are thought to be fleeing the country every day. Over half are children.

Most have fled to neighbouring countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq.

The sudden influx of people is in danger is destabilising the region.

One in five people in Lebanon are now Syrian refugees. Iraq is sporadically closing its borders and there is tension in Turkey and Jordan.

Britain says it is focusing its efforts on helping in the region itself. It says the £500 million pledged so far is more than other EU member states combined.

EU aid stands at £1.1 billion. It is focusing its funds on helping people displaced within the country, who now number 6.5 million.

The UK insists it does not take part in resettlement programmes, but considers asylum claims on their own merits.

But analysis of Syrian refugee claims suggests UKBA routinely rejects applications only to have them succeed on appeal.

In 2012, 52% of appeals against rejected asylum claims were allowed for Syrians.

Syrian citizens – together with those from Sri Lanka, Iran and Zimbabwe – have much higher than average appeal overturn rates.

A sample of asylum rejections by Amnesty International showed this was due to an incorrect assessment of the claim by Home Office staff

Eighty per cent of the total EU refugee pledges come from Germany, which has resettled 1,000 refugees and plans to admit another 9,000.

France offered 500 and Spain just 30. Italy has accepted none.

Sweden is offering Syrians permanent refugee residence and over 14,000 have sought asylum there in the last two years.

The UN has urged Western countries to take in up to 30,000 Syrians by the end of 2014, with a money payment for each resettled refugee. EU leaders will consider the plan next Thursday.

But in the background, the EU is also pushing back Syrians into the region, with millions of euros going towards consolidating controls preventing Syrians reaching Turkey.

The row comes as campaigners warn of the effect of what is expected to be a bitter winter on the hundreds of thousands of Syrians living in tented camps in Lebanon.