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No escape for Syrians seeking safety six years after first protests

By Oxfam

President Trump’s ban on Syrians goes into effect as Syrians mark tragic milestone

Six years since the demonstrations that triggered the descent into a brutal civil war, millions of Syrians are bearing the brunt of increasingly restrictive policies around the world and inside Syria to stop them reaching safety, Oxfam warned today.

Those who have fled Syria are seeing doors slammed in their faces as rich countries across the world enact policies hostile towards refugees. Since the end of January 2017, the United States, European Union and United Kingdom have changed, suspended or cancelled policies that could have seen tens of thousands of refugees offered a safe haven.

Amongst the most vulnerable are the approximately 78,000 people trapped along Syria’s sealed borders with Jordan, the hundreds of thousands more prevented from entering Turkey, and over 640,000 people struggling to survive under military sieges in Syria, imposed by the Government of Syria and its allies, armed opposition groups, and ISIS.

Andy Baker, who leads Oxfam’s Syria Crisis Response said:

 “A new international consensus is emerging to stop Syrians fleeing violence, rather than stopping the violence that is causing them to flee. The result is more civilians in the firing line and living under crippling military siege, vulnerable refugees left with no resettlement options, and increasing attempts to force Syrians to return to conflict zones."

President Donald Trump’s latest effort to slam the door on refugees is yet another affront to Syrians as they mark 6 years since the start of the crisis. His second Executive Order, which goes into effect on March 16, completely halts the refugee resettlement program for 120 days. This unprecedented action poses a direct threat to the lives of Syrians and other refugees who, given the multiple, overlapping and time-sensitive medical and security screenings imposed by the process, effectively have only a two month window to travel before checks begin to expire. President Trump claims he took these measures to protect the US, but the facts simply do not bear out those claims. Stopping the resettlement will not make us any safer; instead it will cause massive harm to tens of thousands of people.

Not only has the US closed its borders to Syrian refugees, but the new Administration has proposed historic and devastating cuts to the foreign aid program. Foreign aid represents a fraction of the US budget – just 1% - yet provides a critical life-line to tens of millions of women, men, and children around the world, including Syrians. It is an essential tool in the struggle to counter the violent extremism that Mr. Trump says he wants to fight.

Matthew Chrastek, coordinator at the American Relief Coalition for Syria, an Oxfam partner said, “As a coalition of Syrian-American diaspora organizations providing shelter, food, and health services to displaced people in Syria and the neighboring countries, we remain frustrated by the international community’s focus on the symptoms and not the causes of the crisis. Many Syrians we work with, who have been waiting for months and years to return home, are now feeling even further alienated by the increase in anti-refugee rhetoric in the US and around the world.”

While the US has focused primarily on countering the very real threat from ISIS, there has not been appropriate attention to addressing the root causes of the crisis and finding a political solution for a lasting peace for Syria.

Inside Syria, civilians in besieged areas are under a tightening grip. Like in Aleppo at the end of last year, when territory is taken by the Syrian government and their allies, civilians are given the choice of evacuation – often to unsafe areas and where they face threats en route - or to remain in the area and accept rule by the Syrian government, with considerable risks for those who the government perceives as being part of the opposition. Civilian humanitarian workers who have helped their communities in the last years of war are often particularly at risk of reprisal.

Baker said: “The international community must listen to all those affected by the crisis – including those forced to flee across borders and those within Syria, as well as the local humanitarian organizations that have helped them through this tragedy. Until there is a sustainable peace in Syria, all members of the international community have a duty to offer a safe haven to those fleeing the violence and repression.”

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