These Countries Are Failing to Resettle Their ‘Fair Share’ of Syrian Refugees

Oxfam is calling on wealthy nations to drastically increase the number of Syrian refugees they take in by the end of the year.

Syrian refugees walk with their belongings after entering Jordan at the Hadalat border crossing, east of Amman, on Jan. 14. (Photo: Khalil Mazraawi/AFP/Getty Images)

Mar 29, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Last fall, President Barack Obama pledged to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees into the U.S. by September 2016. But according to Oxfam International, the U.S. should multiply that figure by 17 to meet the needs of Syrian refugees trapped in struggling nations like Lebanon and Jordan that can no longer afford to support them.

Based on America’s economy and the total number of refugees that need resettlement, Oxfam recommends that the U.S. pledge to admit more than 170,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2016, according to a report released Tuesday. But the U.S. isn’t the only wealthy country failing to meet what Oxfam considers its “fair share” of refugee resettlements. In a list of more than two dozen countries, 90 percent are falling short of resettlement recommendations.

Oxfam’s report comes alongside newly released resettlement figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which show that more than 450,000 Syrians will need to be resettled to a third country by 2018. (Oxfam’s report ups the time line by two years.) Roughly 4.8 million refugees fled war-torn Syria to surrounding countries Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, putting a strain on their economic and public services. With violence raging in Syria, people cannot return home, nor do they have adequate support to continue living in Turkey, Lebanon, or Jordan, making additional relocations necessary.

“Countries with a strong economy, good services, and developed infrastructure can immediately resettle 500,000 refugees between them—if they choose to,” Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam, said in a press release. “Some countries have reached their fair share and more. Others need to follow.”

Only Germany, Canada, and Norway have met or surpassed the amount of refugees they can reasonably accommodate, according to Oxfam’s calculations. Australia, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, and New Zealand have pledged to accommodate half of what Oxfam considers their “fair share” of refugees, while France, Italy, and the Netherlands have pledged to resettle less than 10 percent.

But many of these pledges of resettlement haven’t been fulfilled yet. Altogether, wealthy nations have offered to take in 129,966 people, but fewer than 70,000 have arrived in their third country. The U.S., for instance, pledged to take in 10,000 refugees between October 2015 and September 2016, but with fewer than 1,000 people resettled so far, Oxfam officials worry the U.S. won’t meet its target without increased action.

RELATED: 10 Photos That Reveal the Heartbreak and Innocence of Child Refugees

On Wednesday, representatives from 92 countries will attend the UNHCR’s Geneva conference to hash out alternative paths to resettlement, such as relaxed requirements for work and education visas, expedited humanitarian admission, and relocation based on medical conditions.

“The Geneva meeting should result in urgent solutions, offering people safe and legal routes to a welcome in third countries,” Byanyima said.

But this call to open doors to refugees comes when many nations are doing just the opposite. Hungary built a razor-wire fence to keep migrants out. Denmark’s conservative government passed a law that allows officials to confiscate valuables from refugees. U.S. conservative presidential hopefuls have suggested the U.S. either refuse to admit Syrian refugees entirely or admit only those who are Christian.

“We’re dealing with a complex situation, increasing fear in many countries, increasing politicization of refugee, displacement, and asylum issues,” Adrian Edwards, a UNHCR spokesman, said during a press briefing. “This is a difficult thing.”