By the Numbers

What is Europe doing to help
Syrian refugees?

By Sarah Slye

Horrified by photographs of a mother desperately trying to hold her baby’s head above water and a drowned toddler lying face down in the surf along the shores of the Aegean Sea, social media users have generated a surge in cries demanding Europe “do something” to help Syrian refugees. There is also a common impression in Turkey that Europe is not “doing enough” to help this country take care of its over 2 million asylum seekers from Syria.

Humanitarian aid

According to the website of the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO), the EU and European member states have together mobilised a cumulative total of over €4.2bn in aid for Syrians in Syria and Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. In 2015 the EU has increased assistance to Syria and neighbouring countries by €200m. It is providing €200m per year in 2015 and 2016 as part of the comprehensive EU strategy for the crises in Syria and Iraq.

The Financial Tracking Service (FTS) of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which records global humanitarian aid flows, provides greater  detail. As of 25 September, the European Commission has either channelled or pledged roughly $310m into various projects for helping Syrian refugees in 2015. These funds are going to organisations like the International Rescue Committee, Danish Refugee Council, Médecins du Monde, UNHCR and WHO to implement projects in various sectors (health, water and sanitation, food, etc.).

The European Commission is third on the FTS’s list of donors for 2015 – after the USA and UK. It is followed by many European countries: Germany - $269m (5th), Netherlands - $70m (11th), Switzerland - $61m (12th), etc. Out of the 48 donors on the list, 26 are European countries (including Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and the Holy See), 1 is the European Commission itself, 5 are UN-based or unspecified, and 16 are non-European countries. In terms of volume, the EU and European countries are collectively contributing at least 39.6% of total donations this year, which is more than the USA even though it is the single greatest donor at 29.6%. Gulf states have contributed nearly 10% leaving other countries and unspecified or private donors to supply the remaining ~20%.

The numbers for 2014 and 2013 are comparable. In 2012, European countries accounted for over 36.5% of total aid to Syria, followed by Saudi Arabia at 22.4% and the USA at 16.9%.

Even so, organisations like UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) assert that only a fraction of total required funds have ever been received and that humanitarian operations in the region are chronically underfunded. In 2012 and 2013, 70% and 71% of funding needs were met, respectively. In 2014, however, 57% of requested funding was received, and only 40% has been received for 2015, as of 25 September. Thus, the question arises whether European countries are “contributing as much as they can” – not to mention the rest of the world.

In March of this year, Oxfam released the “Syria Crisis: Fair Share Analysis 2015”.  This briefing breaks down contributions into two categories: humanitarian funding and resettlement. “Fair share” of funding is determined by comparing the gross national incomes (GNI) of thirty-two of the world’s wealthiest countries to the total amount of funding needed.

As of March 2015, none of the listed states had contributed even 50% of their “fair share” of funding for the indicated year – with the notable exception of the UK (110%). These figures should be updated, however. As for 2014, the numbers tell a different story. The following European countries provided more than their “fair share”: Denmark (233%), Finland (118%), Germany (111%), Ireland (142%), Luxembourg (222%), Netherlands (114%), Norway (254%), Sweden (143%), Switzerland (123%) and the UK (166%). France, Italy and Portugal contributed over half of their “fair share”. And Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Greece, Poland, Slovakia and Spain contributed less than half.

In terms of humanitarian aid, according to FTS, 12% of the EC’s contributions and commitments so far during 2015 have gone to projects in Turkey ($37,277,208 out of $310,191,073). Most individual European countries, however, have donated a far smaller percentage. Moreover, less than 5% of the over $1bn donated by Europe towards humanitarian efforts in the region has gone to projects in Turkey despite the fact that Turkey is hosting over half of all Syrian refugees. Finally, the cumulative total of €4.2bn in aid donated by Europe as a collective for Syrian IDPs and refugees is still less the $7.6bn Turkey has spent alone on managing the crisis within its own borders.

European Commission contributions towards aid for Syrian refugees in Turkey during 2015:

Funds disbursed to: Sector: Amount: Funds committed to: Sector: Amount:
International Organisation for Migration multi-sector $7,322,404
UNHCR multi-sector $4,802,412
WHO health care $544,662
Various recipients multi-sector $6,982,000
Various recipients multi-sector $6,400,000
Médecins du Monde medical care $1,659,292
Danish Refugee Council not specified $1,106,195
DIAKONISCHES WERK DER EKD unconditional cash assistance $1,106,195
Deutsche Welthungerhilfe e.V. (German Agro Action) cash cards for food $1,106,195
United Nations Development Programme livelihoods and municipal sector $5,856,354
ČLOVEK V TÍSNI, O.P.S. education and psychosocial support for children $391,499

Donations by European countries towards the humanitarian crisis in Syria and percentages earmarked for projects in Turkey specifically.

Donor Total in USD Turkey %
European Commission 310,191,073 37,277,208 12
Belgium 16,706,043 880,000 5
Bulgaria 113,122 0 0
Czech Republic 2,253,182 0 0
Denmark 26,716,447 607,923 2
Finland 15,841,220 2,765,487 17
Germany 235,040,252 3,556,920 1.5
Holy See 4,875 0 0
Ireland 5,010,020 541,712 11
Italy 11,345,859 0 0
Latvia 55,249 0 0
Lithuania 43,573 0 0
Luxembourg 6,269,629 855,465 14
Malta 55,310 0 0
Monaco 754,183 0 0
Netherlands 69,686,502 1,979,650 3
Norway 59,666,724 225,900 <1
Poland 620,609 0 0
Slovakia 33,670 0 0
Slovenia 66,372 0 0
Spain 4,897,496 0 0
Sweden 34,347,524 1,409,098 4
Switzerland 60,900,995 1,648,822 3
UK 474,911,716 13,354,038 3
Europe Totals 1,335,707,476 65,102,223 <5

* Percentages rounded up or down.

Refugee intake: first instance decisions

Throwing money at a problem does not necessarily solve it, though. Many Syrian refugees are now living in overcrowded tent camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey while millions more do not reside in camps at all, receiving little or no direct assistance. Naturally, some of them will head to Europe to seek better opportunities.

UNHCR reports that 346,214 Syrians applied for asylum in European Union countries between April 2011 and August 2015. Eurostat, for its part, reports that 270,605 applied for asylum between 2011 and the second quarter of 2015.

Using the data provided by Eurostat, it is possible to calculate that Syrians seeking refugee status in Europe constitute only about 6.7% of all known Syrian refugees (4 million) and 13% of the total number of asylum applicants in the EU. In other words, relatively few Syrians have officially applied for refugee status in Europe.

Meanwhile, acceptance rates for Syrian refugees in Europe have been comparatively high. According to researcher Christine Marie Fandrich of the EUI Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies (Migration Policy Centre), “between January 2011 and June 2013 … 31,400 Syrian asylum-seekers out of 36,770 received a positive status throughout the EU.” This is 85%. In 2014, EU member states only accepted ~54% of Syrian refugees in the first instance, but this is a significantly higher rate than for applicants from other countries; Eritreans were in second place at 9% and Afghanis in third place at 7%.

The following chart shows the percentages of positive first instance decisions for Syrian applicants in 2014 by European country. The only states with an acceptance rate of under fifty percent are Hungary (2.6%), Slovenia (11%) and Slovakia (37%).

State Applications Approvals %
Europe 122,790 66,260 53.96%
Belgium 2,705 1,675 62%
Bulgaria 6,245 6,405 102.5%
Czech Republic 110 75 68%
Denmark 7,210 3,985 55%
Germany 41,100 23,860 58%
Estonia 5
Greece 785 590 75%
Spain 1,510 1,160 76.8%
France 1,980
Croatia 65
Cyprus 995 930 93%
Latvia 35 20 57%
Luxembourg 40
Hungary 6,855 180 2.6%
Malta 305 360 118%
Netherlands 9,485 6,175 65%
Austria 7,730
Poland 130
Romania 615 460 75%
Slovenia 90 10 11%
Slovakia 40 15 37%
Sweden 30,750 16,295 53%
UK 1,425
Norway 2,085 1,250 60%
Switzerland 3,820 3,650 95.5%
Iceland 5

Concerning the second quarter of 2015, according to Eurostat, “Syrians have received by far the highest number of protection statuses in the EU, including protection based on national legislations.” Out of 25,530 decisions made, 24,405 were positive first instance decisions. This is a 96% rate of recognition. In the first quarter of 2015, the recognition rate was 94% (26,260 out of 27,940).

Refugee intake: resettlement

Resettlement, however, is an area in which many European countries could show improvement. The UNCHR defines “resettlement” as “the transfer of refugees from an asylum country to another State that has agreed to admit them and ultimately grant them permanent settlement.” Moreover, it is important to keep in mind that resettlement and relocation are two different activities. As the Embassy of Slovenia in Ankara clarified, resettlement “refers to reception of refugees from a third country” while relocation is the term for “moving persons from one EU member state to another”.

It is due to this distinction that, in his State of the Union speech on 9 September, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called for the EU to immediately coordinate the relocation of 160,000 refugees from Greece, Italy and Hungary into other European countries. And it was clearly in reference to resettlement that he spoke of the need for “opening legal channels for migration,” stating that “if there are more, safe and controlled roads opened to Europe, we can manage migration better and make the illegal work of human traffickers less attractive” and then promising that the Commission would come forward with a legal migration package in early 2016 (cited from the EC press release).

A review of the statistics related to resettlement shows that even though Europe has, as a collective, committed to resettling more Syrians from Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon than the rest of the world combined, most individual European countries have contributed very little to this effort and actual numbers are low.

According to the UNHCR, 107,239 places have been found around the world for Syrian refugees between 2013 and 9 September 2015. Most of these are in the form of resettlement but some are part of humanitarian visa programmes. Over half (56,309+) of these places have been pledged or secured by European countries. The United States, Argentina, Australia, Belarus, Brazil, Canada, New Zealand and Uruguay are the only other countries reported by the organisation to be participating in resettlement schemes.

Austria 1,500
Belgium 475
Czech Republic 70
Denmark 390
Finland 1,150
France 1,000 +
Germany 35,000
Hungary 30
Ireland 610 +
Italy 350
Liechtenstein 25
Luxembourg 60
Netherlands 500
Norway 9,000
Poland 100
Portugal 93
Romania 40
Spain 130
Sweden 2,070
Switzerland 3,500 +
UK 216

Thus, worldwide, resettlement places have made available for approximately 2.5% of all four million Syrian refugees, and European countries have provided or pledged resettlement places for roughly 1.25% of all Syrian refugees.

Returning to the Oxfam report, “fair share” of resettlement can be calculated by dividing 5% of the Syrian refugee population located in countries neighbouring Syria among the world’s richest states according to GNI. As of March 2015, the following European countries had accepted or pledged to resettle 90% or more of their “fair share” of Syrian refugees: Finland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Austria. These countries emerge in the Oxfam briefing as clear winners in terms of both funding and resettlement:

EU Member State Funding (2014) Resettlement (through March 2015)
Finland 118% 93%
Germany 111% 200%
Norway 254% 170%
Sweden 143% 147%
Switzerland 123% 178%
Austria > 50% 92%

But, with the exception of these nations, there is an obvious tendency for European countries to prefer contributing their “fair share” of funds to humanitarian efforts over participating in resettlement schemes.

EU Member State Funding (2014) Resettlement (through March 2015)
Denmark 233% 37%
Luxembourg 222% 39%
UK 166% 5%
Ireland 142% 47%
Netherlands 114% 16%
Portugal 59% 2%
Italy 58% 5%
France 57% 23%
Belgium 48% 15%
Greece 42% 0%
Spain 42% 4%
Czech Republic 36% 6%
Poland 20% 3%
Slovakia 20% 0%

Unfortunately, the Europeans’ preferred method of providing succour to victims of the Syrian conflict – sending some money – is, while sorely needed and surely appreciated, ultimately unsustainable and ineffective. As long as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey are incapable of absorbing the overwhelming bulk of Syria’s refugee population, asylum seekers will continue taking great risks to get to Europe.

The EC official informed Europe Insight that the Commission lacked figures on specifically how many refugees accepted into Europe had arrived from Turkey. It appears that most of the very limited efforts made towards resettling Syrians are focused in Lebanon, Jordan or Syria. Meanwhile, as long as there are no, or very narrow, legal resettlement channels, Syrian children will continue to “drown in the Aegean Sea” (cited from Hurriyet Daily News).

While it is unreasonable to demand that Europeans welcome everyone from everywhere who shows up illegally in their lands or single-handedly resettle all of Syria’s 4 million refugees and 7.6 million IDPs, if Europe actually did absorb 11.6 million Syrians, these, according to Eurostat, would make up only 2.28% of Europe’s current population (508 million).

The Syrians who have already applied for asylum in Europe (not all having been accepted) constitute a mere 0.068% of the EU population, and the ~50,000 resettlement places referred to above amount to 0.0098%. Allowing more Syrians the option of applying for resettlement would help relieve pressure on Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey and could potentially contribute to the reduction of unmanaged refugee inflows into Europe. The numbers certainly suggest that Europe is capable of redoubling its efforts in this area, should it develop the political will to do so.


European Commission

A European Commission official informed Europe Insight that “in May the Commission proposed an EU-wide resettlement scheme to resettle 20,000 refugees from the Middle East, North Africa and the Horn of Africa to Europe, which was accepted and surpassed by the Ministers of Interior at the last Home Affairs Council of 20 July, agreeing to resettle 22,504 displaced persons in clear need of international protection.”


According to Andrew Kelly, a spokesperson at the Department of Justice and Equality, “The total number of persons displaced by the Syrian conflict admitted to Ireland under the resettlement programme to date is 138 persons. This includes 31 Afghans and four Iraqi Palestinians admitted from Damascus in 2013, 90 Syrian refugees admitted from Jordan in 2014 and 13 Syrian refugees who arrived from Jordan in April 2015. In addition, Ireland has operated a Syrian Humanitarian Application under which 114 people will be coming to Ireland to join family already here.”


To summarize information provided by Matthieu Tardis, a researcher at the Centre Migrations et Citoyennetés, France implemented an ad hoc reception scheme in 2014 for 498 refugees and this programme is to be renewed in 2015 for 500 more Syrians. In addition 1,400 Syrians received humanitarian visas between 2011 and 2015.


Harald Neymanns, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior, informed Europe Insight that the federal government is taking a total of 20,000 vulnerable Syrians within the context of three humanitarian admission programmes, including 4,300 from Turkey. Fifteen states have also developed programmes to accommodate Syrians with relatives in Germany and some 18,000 visas have been issued in this context, including over 6,500 in Turkey.


The Embassy of Slovenia in Turkey shared information that it is intensely preparing to resettle twenty persons but that their nationality and country of origin are not decided. Although Slovenia has yet to resettle any Syrian refugees, it has contributed or pledged close to half a million euros in humanitarian aid and has been involved in several bilateral projects over the past few years, including “Tomorrow Is Ours” (ITF Enhancing Human Security) and “Jordan Through The Eyes Of A Child” (Zavod Krog), both dedicated to empowering children.


According to the Estonian Embassy in Ankara, this country has mobilised over €1.6m in aid for refugees in the countries neighbouring Syria, and Estonians have been active in various projects in the region. For example, “the Estonian Disaster Relief Team assisted in the construction of the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan and Estonia provided financial support for transitional shelters in this camp,” as well as, “supported the creation of a learning environment for primary school-aged Syrian refugees in the Za’atr refugee camp in Jordan.” The embassy did not mention anything specifically regarding resettlement.

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