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Some EU nations rejecting Syrians seeking asylum

October 16, 2012 | 10:56 am


While the European Union denounces the escalating violence in Syria, not all of its member nations have welcomed fleeing Syrians with open arms, the United Nations refugee agency said Tuesday.

Some countries on the eastern edges of the European Union are rejecting more than half of Syrians who seek asylum, the U.N. agency said. Greece, for instance, has fallen short in protecting Syrian refugees, agency spokesman Adrian Edwards told reporters in Geneva. The country rejected every one of the 115 Syrian asylum applications that it weighed between January and June, according to European Commission statistics.

Human-rights groups have long complained that Greece throws up steep barriers to those seeking  asylum; the country contends that it bears an unfairly heavy immigration burden because of its location on the Mediterranean Sea.

Greece "fails to meet the protection needs of many refugees," Edwards told reporters.

Other countries are offering Syrians only “a tolerated stay,” the U.N. agency said.

Though Edwards did not name which specific countries were doing so, European Commission statistics show Hungary and Bulgaria granted asylum to roughly half of Syrians applicants between January and June, rejecting some completely and giving others a lesser level of protection than asylum could afford.

The European Union just won the Nobel Peace Prize for advancing peace, democracy and human rights. It tightened sanctions on Syria earlier this week, lamenting the intensification of violence. The refugee crisis “is an opportunity for the EU to put its commitment to solidarity into practice,” Edwards said Tuesday. 

While some European countries turn down Syrians, the vast majority of the refugees are pouring into Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, where their numbers have swelled to more than 340,000. As winter draws closer, the U.N. and its partners have scrambled to supply refugees with warm clothing and other supplies to deal with the plunging temperatures.

In contrast to those booming numbers, the EU and non-members Norway and Switzerland have fielded fewer than 17,000 asylum applications from Syrians in more than a year and a half. Roughly a third were filed with Germany, which has granted asylum to the vast majority of Syrians who applied this year; smaller numbers sought safe haven in Sweden, Switzerland, Austria and Britain, which granted asylum to the majority of Syrian applicants.

"For the most part, EU countries are being generous with asylum," Edwards said in a phone interview Tuesday. However, the inconsistency between European countries poses a problem, he said.

European countries also have chipped in financially to aid the refugees, standing as some of the biggest donors to the U.N. campaign to provide for the masses pouring out of Syria. The EU itself has donated more than $10 million to the cause. But the plan nonetheless remains underfunded, netting less than a third of its recently updated goal of $487.9 million, the U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday.


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— Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Syrians who fled their homes due to fighting between government forces and rebels take refuge at a camp near the Turkish border in Azaz, Syria, on Oct. 7. Credit: Manu Brabo / Associated Press.