The Syrian Refugee Crisis: A Comparison of Responses by Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States

by Nicole Ostrand

Executive Summary

The conflict in Syria between the government of Bashar al-Assad and various other forces, which started in the spring of 2011, continues to cause displacement within the country and across the region. By the end of 2014, an estimated 7.6 million people were internally displaced and 3.7 million Syrians had fled the country since the conflict began (OCHA 2014; UNHCR 2015a). The refugee situation caused by the Syrian conflict is dire, and it has placed enormous strain on neighboring countries. Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, and Turkey host massive numbers of Syrian refugees, and Syrians have been seeking protection beyond these countries in increasing numbers since 2011.

This paper looks at the burdens and costs of the Syrian refugee crisis and considers how they have, or have not, been shared by the international community at large, and in particular by Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. It also considers to what degree Syrians have been able to find protection in states outside the region. Germany and Sweden, by the end of 2014, had provided protection to the largest number of Syrian refugees outside the region. Although Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States differ in the level of protection provided to Syrians, all four states have increased protection to Syrians via resettlement and asylum (and in the case of the US temporary protected status) since 2012. Despite this, the degree of protection provided by the four states is modest in relation to that provided by neighboring countries to Syria, and far more could be done. This paper also argues that the international community as a whole has not sufficiently contributed toward alleviating the burden caused by the Syrian refugee influx, in terms of both financial assistance and refugee resettlement.

The paper puts forward two general recommendations to reduce the strain on neighboring countries: increase the level of burden sharing by the international community as a whole and more evenly distribute the burden among industrialized states in Europe, North America, and the Asia Pacific. In terms of enhancing the level of protection for Syrians in countries beyond the region, it proposes three recommendations for states: namely, increase refugee resettlement, facilitate family reunification and other forms of legal admission, and allow refugees to seek protection through embassies in the region.


ISSN 2330-2488 (Online), 2331-5024 (Print)  © 2017 by the Center for Migration Studies of New York

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