Amnesty International (AI) has denounced the reaction of the European Union (EU) to the growing Syrian refugee crisis. So far, EU member states have only opened their doors to 12,000 Syrian refugees as part of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' plan for securing 30,000 places, leading the human rights organisation to conclude that: "European leaders should 'hang their heads with shame' over the way they treat Syrian refugees."
The secretary general of AI, Salil Shetty, said that "the EU has miserably failed to play its part in providing a safe haven to the refugees who have lost all but their lives. The number of those it's prepared to resettle is truly pitiful."
The London-based organisation noted that the "EU member states have only offered to open their doors to around 12,000 of the most vulnerable refugees from Syria: just 0.5 per cent of the 2.3 million people who have fled the country."
In a statement, AI explained that so far, "only ten EU member states have offered resettlement or humanitarian admission places to refugees from Syria. Germany is by far the most generous – pledging to take 10,000 refugees or 80 per cent of total EU pledges. The remaining 27 EU member states have offered to take a mere 2,340 refugees from Syria," with France offering 500 places and Spain agreeing to take just 30. The organisation stressed that, "Eighteen EU member states – including the UK and Italy – offered no places at all."
The organisation also pointed out that as the winter season is approaching, the living conditions for the more than two million Syrian refugees in the neighbouring countries are "rapidly deteriorating". Since the EU is offering to receive only 12,000 refugees by the end of 2014, many Syrians are attempting to reach Europe by sea, despite the extreme dangers.
AI noted that border officers in Greece and Bulgaria have resorted to violent measures to refuse entry to those refugees coming by sea, calling such treatment "deplorable". "Refugees have told Amnesty International how Greek police or coastguards, wielding guns and wearing full face hoods, ill-treat them, strip them of their belongings and eventually push them back to Turkey."
One 32 year old Syrian refugee who tried to enter Greece with his mother described how: "They put all the men lying on the boat; they stepped on us and hit us with their weapons for three hours. Then at around 10 in the morning, after removing the motor, they put us back to our plastic boat and drove us back to the Turkish waters and left us in the middle of the sea."
According to the organisation, only 55 000 Syrian refugees have managed to safely arrive in the EU to begin proceedings for seeking asylum.