Syrian Refugee Crisis and The Response of the European Union

The Syrian crisis started with the peaceful uprising against the president as a pro-democratic movement during the Arab spring in 2011. Even before the crisis began, there has been massive disenchantment with Syrian people against its president due to massive unemployment, corruption, and oppression.

Syrian Refugee Crisis and The Response of the European Union

The Syrian Refugee crisis has become a devasting disaster in the recent memory resulting in the death of Innocent Civilians, including Women, children, elderly and other vulnerable people. The available data suggest that the Syrian crisis has taken the lives of around 200,000 people and out of which an approximate 8000 documented killings of Children who have not attained the age of 18. The Population of Syria is approximately 22 million, of which the crisis has resulted in 7.6 million Internally Displaced Person, and additionally 3.2 million refugees. Moreover, the crisis has put a population of around 12.2 million in the immediate need for humanitarian assistance.[1]

Most of the Refugees from the Syrian flee to their neighbouring countries like Jordan, Lebanon, and turkey, and the number of Refugees reaching these countries are 600,000,1.14 million, and 1.6 million, respectively. Besides this, Syrians are also seeking shelter in Egypt, Iraq and some of the EU union nations like Greece, Italy and Germany. The Influx of refugees in these countries has propped up new challenges like physical protection, shelter, health, education, employment of these incoming people.[2]

The plight of these people has become increasingly dangerous as countries like Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon has no obligation to treat Syrians as refugees because they are not Signatories to the refugee convention of 1951 and its associated optional protocol. Hence the international responsibility of these countries to protect these people are legally absent. Another country that hosts most of these Syrians is turkey, and it is a signatory to the refugee convention 1951. But turkey has a geographical limitation on the Refugee convention of 1951 by making its obligation only applicable to the refugees from European Union Area who were affected by the events before January 1951. Hence the responsibility of Turkey concerning Syrian Refugees have been Negated by this Limitation.

However, Turkey’s Obligation is different from other countries by being a member of the European Union. Besides Turkey, other European Union nations have also taken some of the burdens of the Syrian Population like Greece, Italy and Germany. Hence it becomes the Response of the EU to Syrian crisis becomes paramount in reducing the pain and degradation suffered by the Syrian Population. Besides Refugee Convention some of the Instruments that apply to Refugees in the area of European Union Includes “association agreement in the framework of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership” more famously known as Beijing declaration, “European Neighbourhood policy instrument”, “Global Approach to Migration

and Mobility”. In the backdrop of these legal instruments, it is vital to analyse the Response of the European Union to the Syrian crisis. This paper will trace the Syrian crisis from its origin and the Response of the European Union Nations to this conflict from the refugee law perspective.

The Beginning of the Crisis

The Syrian crisis started with the peaceful uprising against the president as a pro-democratic movement during the Arab spring in 2011. Even before the crisis began, there has been massive disenchantment with Syrian people against its president due to massive unemployment, corruption, and oppression. The Arab spring in the neighbouring countries gave a considerable impetus to the social, economic and political injustice felt by the Syrian People. Soon the peaceful uprising turned violent, and a large-scale civil war broke between the government and opposition supporters whose aim was to overthrow Dictatorship of the President.

Religious sectarianism in Syria

Syria is a vast plural country comprising of the various ethnic groups like Sunnis, Shias, Alawis and Kurds. This plurality and diversity of opinion have given catalyst to the uprising and has been a source of exploitation for the international players to take sides based on their self-interest. Moreover, The Syrian Crisis has slowly transformed into a sectarian religious war between the majority Sunni Muslim community against the Shia’s Alawite sect of the president. The Religious Sectarianism has led to the further mushrooming of the fundamentalist jihadist groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaida to flourish. Another key player in this struggle is the Syrian Kurds who demand the right of self-government.[3]

Kurds are the ethnic minority people living in countries like Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq. Alongside Arabs, they form a critical ethnic group in the Syrian Region. The Kurds live mostly in the northern part of Syria bordering turkey. The Kurds got involved in the Syrian crisis to protect their territory from the chaos of the Syrian civil war. The warring factions in Syria to the following groups

  • The pro-government militias
  • Rebels fighting for a democratic state
  • Islamic extremists
  • Ethnic and religious minorities seeking to protect their territories

Read More:

International Proxy War in Syria

Countries like Russian and Iran support the pro-government militias. On the other hand, Countries like Turkey, USA, and several other gulf states who subscribe to the Sunni ideology of Islam have supported the forces fighting the ruling party. Additionally, the government had the backing of Lebanon’s Hezbollah and other militias from Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. Each International power has different interests and motivations to be involved in the conflict. For, Example, one of the motivating factors for the turkey to support the rebel is to contain the spread of Kurdish forces in the north, whom the turkey believes may affect their internal security.[4]

International Legal Refugee Protection

The international Legal Refugee Protection has two Fundamental Principles namely the Principle of Burden Sharing and The Principle of Non-Refoulment

The Principle of Burden Sharing

The modern Refugee law has origins from the mid of the twentieth century after the second world war. The International Legal Refugee Protection has a crucial concept called the “Burden Sharing”. According to this concept, it is the responsibility of the international community to offer protection and shelter to the refugees. According to this Principle, the refugee problem is the concern of the entire humanity. From the perspective of the Syrian crisis, the International Community is bound by a higher moral norm because most of the Developed Nations are involved in the Syrian crisis in some form or other.

The Principle of Non-Refoulment

Another Fundamental Principle of Refugee law is the Principle of Non-Refoulment. According to this Principle,” the states cannot return foreign nationals to their home territory where they are subjected to torture, inhuman treatment or where their lives and freedom might be at risk”. Also, The Principle is reflected in the following international instruments “Geneva convention relating to the status of refugees”, “United Nations Convention on

Torture and other cruel, Inhuman or degrading treatment or Punishment which possess the prohibition of refoulment.

The principles of Refugee protection and the Right to Asylum have in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. According to Article 14(1) of the universal declaration of Human Rights, it has been stated that “everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”. In terms of the International Institutions, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is the main body responsible for providing international protection to the refugees. The Key Function of the UNHCR in the Syrian Crisis is to assist the refugees of Syria in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey. According to its mandate, its primary function is to “promote the conclusion and ratification of international conventions for the protection of refugees, supervising their application and proposing amendments thereto”[5]

Some of the key provisions of the International Law about Refugees Include the following:

The International refugee law is derived from two main sources

  • International customary law
  • Refugee convention

The 1951 refugee convention and its 1967 optional protocol has the following obligations to the state parties under the convention like Recognising those fleeing from war zones as refugees,

  • providing refugees with basic services such as Sustenance, shelter and medicine,
  • giving them treatment equivalent to that of Foreigners and
  • completely refraining from sending them back to their state of origin where their life is at threat.

The response of the European Union to the crisis

The major European countries where the Syrians have applied for asylums include Germany, Sweden, Netherlands, France, Belgium etc. As of 2011, nearly 112,000 Syrians are living in the regions of the EU. It is believed that these Syrians are helping the refugees from Syria to reside in Eu without applying for asylum status. The Refugees from Syria reach the Eu through the land, sea and air routes. There has been a wide discrepancy between the

number of people fleeing and crossing Syria to the number of people being registered as asylum seekers or migrants in Europe. Hence it brings to the notice that many Syrians reach Europe unnoticed, which can be a huge challenge for the International Organizations like UNHCR to target and provide help to the Refugees who flee the conflict zone.

The approach of the European Union to the Syrian crisis can be grouped under the following actions, namely external and internal. The External responses include assisting the Syrian people by humanitarian assistance and, implementing a Regional protection programme in which a resettlement programme for the refugees within the EU region is envisaged. At the same time, the internal response mechanism includes increasing border security, granting asylum to several Syrians and, refraining from forcibly returning the Syrians to their homeland by rejecting asylum status.

Monetary and Humanitarian Assistance to the Refugees

The European Union countries also provide monetary support to the Refugees fleeing for their lives from Syria. According to European commission justice and home affairs council, the member states of the European Union has approximately provided 230 million in humanitarian assistance to the Syrian crisis. The European Commission claims that this comes around 53% of the international response making it the leading international donor in the Syrian crisis. Moreover, because the fundamental problem in the Syrian crisis is a political issue the EU has tried to bring about political change in the situation Syrian Region by bringing about the political change reflecting the pluralistic character the Syrian community.

Providing food, water, shelter and medicine to the displaced persons forms the core of the humanitarian assistance to the Syrian refugees. Through the channels of the Red Cross and other Ngo, the EU makes sure that Humanitarian Assistance reaches the Syrian refugees. However, some of the other actions by the European Union to the Syrian crisis has not conformed with the object and purpose of the International Refugee law and other Human Rights Convention.

Political Response by the EU

The EU is taking external actions about the Syrian crisis by trying to bring political change in the Syrian Region and providing humanitarian assistance to the Victims. The ways

of political measures include imposing economic sanctions on the ruling Syrian government and by also terminating EU-Syrian bilateral cooperation.

Furthermore, the EU is taking several measures like condemning the Ruling regime’s action through UN resolutions and calling for investigations about the rights abuses perpetrated by the regime.[6]

Increasing the Border Protection

As the means of Internal action, the Eu states are taking strong measures by increasing security along their Border to prevent the Influx of refugees from these areas. For Example, Greece, which is an Eu nation that has been receiving Syrian refugees, has deployed additional forces in its Border, and this has significantly reduced the inflow of the refugees. This response mechanism is in complete violation of the Principle of Non-Refoulment Discussed. According to this Principle, the states which are party to the Refugee convention of 1951 and its optional protocol cannot return persons seeking asylum to their state of origin or prevent them from fleeing the war zone.

Thus, the Internal response mechanism adopted by the EU Countries is in Completely violation of its obligation under the International refugee law and its Core principles.

In conclusion, the action taken by the European Union nations has not in spirit satisfied the objective and purpose of the International Refugee Law. Some of the action taken by the European Union in form internal actions may jeopardise the wellbeing of the refugees and violate the Principle of the Non-Refoulment. Also, the European Union in addition to the Principle of the Burden sharing has special responsibilities towards Syrian refugees because it has actively engaged in armed combat operations in the Syrian Region by offering indirect help to armed militias which wage war against the authoritarian government. The European Union should be more welcoming of the Refugees from the Syrian Region and offer them full Refugee status under the Principles of the Refugee convention 1951. Granting Refugee status and providing them with asylum status is Vital to preserve the peace and stability of the Middle East and the Eastern European Regions like Greece, Turkey, Italy.

In order to fulfil the obligations under the Principle of Burden sharing, the European Union nations could initiate measures like providing proper educational opportunities in schools colleges and further following it with the adequate employment opportunities for the Syrians. Additionally, the European Union countries need to diffuse any misconceptions about these refugees as an internal security threat. The research has time and again proved

that refugees do not constitute a threat to inner peace and in most cases, they lead a peaceful life helping the host countries economically.

Also, refugees must be allowed to practise their religion peacefully in asylum countries without any discrimination and fear. In this regard, the government may facilitate access to religious sites and provide adequate security to the refugees when practising their religion. The most important step the European Union countries could take is to refrain from taking harsh measures in their border region against the incoming refugees because this endangers the lives of the refugees. The European Union is obligated both by international law and through high moral norm to respond to this crisis in a humane manner. The Positive Response by the European Union to the Refugee Crisis will contribute immensely to the Global and Regional Stability of the Middle East Region.


[1] The Syrian Refugee Crisis: Refugees, Conflict, and International Law. (2016). Retrieved from [email protected]+44

[3]Why is there a war in Syria? – BBC News. (n.d.). Retrieved December 30, 2019, from

[4] Who Are the Kurds, and Why Is Turkey Attacking Them in Syria? – The New York Times. (n.d.). Retrieved December 30, 2019, from

[5] The Syrian Refugee Crisis: Refugees, Conflict, and International Law. (2016). Retrieved from [email protected]+44

[6] Fargues, P., & Fandrich, C. (2012). MPC-Migration Policy Centre The European Response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis What Next?

Syrian Refugee Crisis and The Response of the European UnionBy, Mr Blessan M, LLB In IP Law, IIT Kharagpur
Presently pursuing LLM in Human Rights Law from National Law School India, Bangalore

Article Name
Syrian Refugee Crisis and The Response of the European Union
The Syrian crisis started with the peaceful uprising against the president as a pro-democratic movement during the Arab spring in 2011. Even before the crisis began, there has been massive disenchantment with Syrian people against its president due to massive unemployment, corruption, and oppression.