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Syria - The conflict that is tearing the country apart

Humanitarian aid 11-02-2016 - 17:59 / Updated: 08-03-2016 - 19:08

The conflict in Syria has not only posed a threat to the region’s stability in recent years, but it has also had a terrible human cost and is now considered the largest humanitarian crisis since the World War II. By February 2016, 13.5 million Syrians were in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the European Commission. The EU has been deeply concerned about the situation since the start. Read on to find out what it is doing to help. (Read more: What the EU is doing to support the victims of the Syrian conflict )

A reform of EU migration and asylum policies and procedures needs to include gender-sensitive measures to ensure the safety of women seeking asylum, many of whom travel with young children and other dependents, say MEPs in a resolution voted on Tuesday. (Read more: MEPs call for gender-sensitivity in asylum policy)

“For the benefit of refugees we need to cooperate with Turkey,” EP President Martin Schulz said following a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on Monday 7 March. They discussed the refugee crisis, border controls, visa liberalisation for Turkish citizens as well as press freedom in Turkey, ahead of a meeting with the EU heads of state and thwe Turkish government in Brussels to discuss measures to stem the flow of migrants. (Read more: Schulz: “For the benefit of refugees we need to cooperate with Turkey”)

With Europe experiencing the largest influx of migrants since World War II, one of the major challenges is how to integrate them into the labour markets. Not only would a job help migrants to provide for themselves, but also to integrate more easily. Parliament's employment committee discussed the opportunities and challenges with experts on Thursday 18 February. Read on to find out what they and MEPs had to say. (Read more: How to make the integration of refugees into the labour market work)

Turkey plays a crucial role in the refugee crisis: not only is it hosting more than 2.5 million Syrian refugees but also most of the one million migrants who reached the EU last year passed through the country. MEPs have called on EU countries to deliver on the €3 billion refugee facility for Turkey. As the EU searches for the best approach to tackle the crisis, two delegations from the civil liberties and budgets committees travel to Turkey this week to assess the situation on the ground. (Read more: MEPs visit Turkey to assess response to Syrian refugee crisis)

“Political grandstanding” that equates refugees with terrorists only foments the hatred and disillusion that inspires those who join terrorist groups, argued many MEPs in Wednesday’s debate. Rather than allow Europe’s freedoms and tolerance to be eroded, EU countries must strive to strengthen security, by stepping up intelligence cooperation and data-sharing, and investing in the skills and technology needed to fight terrorism, MEPs urged. (Read more: Don’t equate refugees with terrorists – boost security instead, urge MEPs )

EP President Martin Schulz travelled today to the Greek island of Lesbos in order to visit a refugee registration and identification centre where almost 2,500 people are recorded on a daily basis. Speaking at the so-called hotspot at Moria, he said: "We must urgently reinforce efforts to complete hotspots. To be effective, however, all member states must take part in the relocation." While in Greece the President also visited Athens for the first relocation of refugees from Greece to Luxembourg. (Read more: Schulz in Lesbos: "People are really running for their lives")

MEPs urged member states to do more to tackle the refugee crisis during a debate on migration on Tuesday. The debate was on the conclusions of the informal European Council on 23 September when national governments agreed to increase funding and support to EU countries looking after the Union's external borders as well as to neighbouring countries and agencies dealing with Syrian refugees. Most MEPs also supported the European Commission proposal to address the crisis. (Read more: Debate: MEPs discuss best approach to refugee crisis)

Parliament's foreign affairs committee held an exchange of views with Mohammed bin Amin Al-Jefri, Deputy Speaker of the Majlis Al-Shura, the Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia in Brussels on Monday 28 September. The situation in Saudi Arabia and the region as well as the migration crisis centring on Syria and relations between the kingdom and the European Union were discussed. (Read more: Mohammed bin Amin Al-Jefri: "Taking in Syrian refugees reflects EU's respect for human rights")

"The first priority today is and must be tackling the refugee crisis," said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker during the 2015 State of the Union debate at the European Parliament on Wednesday 9 September. "The EU is facing migration, the economic crisis and wars in its neighbourhood. We have to contribute to a solution to these challenges," said EP President Martin Schulz, EP's President in his opening remarks. (Read more: Refugee crisis must be first priority, says Juncker in 2015 State of the Union debate)

The hostilities in the Middle East also affect the five million Palestine refugees living throughout Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories, with a risk of radicalisation as the region becomes more unstable. Pierre Krähenbühl, the commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), issued the warning when he addressed the EP's foreign affairs committee on 2 March. He also said the EU had a crucial role to play. (Read more: UNRWA chief on Gaza: "We're essentially talking about a time bomb")

The international community must deliver on its pledges to step up humanitarian aid and assistance to the millions suffering in the crisis in Iraq and Syria, MEPs urged in a resolution voted on Thursday. They also called on the EU to consider convening a donor conference and stressed the need for a political transition in Syria and an inclusive government in Iraq to cut the ground from under the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Daesh). (Read more: Humanitarian crisis in Iraq and Syria: MEPs call for aid and donor conference)

MEPs discussed the recent cases of migrants smuggled in cargo ships from Turkey to Italy and abandoned at sea by the crew and other incidents in the Mediterranean with Commissioner Avramopoulos on Tuesday evening. The new routes used by smugglers, the role of the EU border agency Frontex, legal channels of migration to the EU and a comprehensive approach to migration came under the spotlight. (Read more: Debate on the smuggling of migrants in the Mediterranean)

When it comes to fighting poverty around the globe, the EU and the member states take it very seriously. Together they are the world's largest aid donor, spending €56.5 billion in 2013 alone to help countries across the world fight poverty. This represented more than half of public aid that year. In December 2013 the European Parliament approved more than € 51.4 billion for supporting countries and regions outside the EU in 2014-2020. (Read more: €56.5 billion: how the EU and member states are fighting poverty world-wide)

Lebanon, a country of just over four million inhabitants, is struggling to shelter 1.5 million Syrian refugees. "They are sharing our water, electricity, schools and hospitals with us," said Lebanese prime minister Tammam Salam. "The country was not programmed for this. It was barely programmed to handle its own needs." Salam was in the European Parliament on 2 December to discuss his country's most pressing issues, including efforts to deal with the spill-over of the conflict in Syria. (Read more: Lebanese PM on Syrian refugee crisis: "We have an unprecedented situation")

Turkey should do more to help Kurds fight off the IS threat in Kobane, many MEPs said in a debate on the besieged Syrian city on 22 October. They also condemned the violence by IS and said more should be done to tackle the terrorist group and help its victims. Some also raised the potential threat of chemical weapons and said a wider strategy was needed for the Middle East. (Read more: Kobane: MEPs call on Turkey to do more to help Syrian city under threat by IS)

Every year conflicts, persecution and natural disasters force millions of children, women and men to flee their homes in search of safety. Some look for refuge in EU. Last year alone member states offered protection to 135,700 asylum seekers, nearly half of which were given refugee status. In honour of World Refugee Day on 20 June, we take a look at what the Parliament and the EU are doing to help. (Read more: World Refugee Day: more people being offered protection in the EU)

A generation of Syrian children is at risk, affecting the country’s chances of recovery after the conflict, experts told MEPs. On 18 December the foreign affairs and development committees organised a debate on how to help the victims of the conflict in Syria, especially the children. "The real danger is that we will lose a generation of Syrian children to hatred and hopelessness,” said Anthony Lake, the executive director of UNICEF. (Read more: Syria: “The crisis has the face of a child”)

The EU should convene a humanitarian conference aimed at helping Syria's neighbouring countries to cope with the still-growing influx of refugees, said the European Parliament in a resolution passed on Wednesday. MEPs urged the EU to go on providing humanitarian aid and support to refugees and to guarantee them safe entry and access to fair asylum procedures in the EU. (Read more: Parliament calls for humanitarian conference on Syrian refugee crisis)

Negotiations will still be needed to find a permanent solution for Syria despite any military action that might be taken, warned Elmar Brok, the chair of the EP’s foreign affairs committee. On behalf of the committee, he also condemned the use of chemical weapons in the war-torn country and criticised China and Russia for not doing more to help find a peaceful solution. (Read more: Syria: “We believe a political solution is still needed”)

Hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled the Syrian regime and are now stranded in the Jordanian desert. Juan Fernando López Aguilar, a Spanish member of the S&D group, led a delegation of MEPs to Jordan last week to see first-hand the tragedy behind the headlines. "They dream of returning to their homes," he said. "They are calling on us to act." We spoke to Mr López Aguilar about how the EU could make a difference in this humanitarian crisis that threatens to overwhelm relief efforts. (Read more: The Arab Spring has turned into a nightmare for Syrian refugees - López Aguilar)

Opening an extraordinary session with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi on the occasion of International Women's Day, Parliament’s President Martin Schulz highlighted Parliament's continuous efforts to combat all forms of violence against women, be it in their home countries, when fleeing or upon arrival in the EU. Mr Grandi called on the EU to reaffirm its values and to reject “blanket” return policies without stipulating safeguard clauses. (Read more: "Moment of truth to reaffirm EU values" urges UN High Commissioner for Refugees)

Gülhan was a physics student in Syria when the civil war put paid to her promising future. Now 32 she has already spent four years living at Osmaniye refugee camp in southern Turkey, an existence that has become routine for her and her three young children. The conflict in Syria has resulted in the world's largest humanitarian disaster since World War II and last week two EP delegations led by Sylvie Guillaume and Jean Arthuis visited some of those whose lives have been upturned by the conflict. (Read more: Refugees: MEPs assess the situation on the ground in Turkey)

The EU needs to overcome its paralysing fears and divisions and to manage migration and refugee flows effectively, said many MEPs in Tuesday's plenary debate with the Dutch Presidency and the Commission. Protecting the EU's external borders effectively is vital to safeguard the Schengen passport-free area, they observed. Some also called for zero tolerance of racist and violent attacks against migrants and refugees. (Read more: The EU needs to overcome fear and divisions to safeguard Schengen, say MEPs)

Migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos warned MEPs the refugee crisis was "getting worse" during a meeting organised by the civil liberties committee on 14 January. He said the EU's unity was at stake amid an increase of "populism and nationalism". The commissioner also called on member states to deliver on their own promises and show solidarity to each other: "If Schengen collapses, it will be the beginning of the end of the European project". (Read more: Refugee crisis: "If Schengen collapses, it'll be start of end European project")

The real divide revealed by today’s migration challenges to the EU is between “pros”, who want to use the EU to solve these challenges, and “antis”, who want to use them to dissolve the EU, argued many MEPs in Tuesday’s debate. Most deplored EU member states’ slowness to deliver on their pledges to pay for more help for refugees, and more manpower to process them at EU borders. The €2.3 bn shortfall is the same as it was two months ago, noted Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. (Read more: Migration debate: the real divide)

EU heads of state and government met this Wednesday 23 September to discuss the migration crisis in the EU and, speaking at the start of the European Council, EP President Schulz said that the European Union "is built on de facto solidarity, out of necessity, not romanticism." "The European Parliament will now engage as a matter of priority with the Council on the proposals presented by President Juncker on 9 September, and present its own further proposals, " he said. (Read more: EP President Schulz at the European Council: "Compassion and human decency must motivate our political decisions")

Hundreds of of refugees continue to arrive at Europe's external borders every day. MEPs approved on 9 September a plan to relocate 40,000 migrants from Italy and Greece to other member states. After the vote we talked to Ska Keller, a German member of the Greens/EFA group who is responsible for steering the plan through Parliament, about the refugee crisis and the relocation scheme (Read more: Ska Keller: "We need to create a win-win situation for refugees and the whole of society")

The EU should do everything possible to prevent further loss of life at sea, e.g. by expanding the mandate of “Triton” operation in the Mediterranean to include "search and rescue operations at EU level", says a resolution voted by Parliament on Wednesday. MEPs also call for a binding quota for distributing asylum seekers among all EU countries, bigger contributions to resettlement programmes, better cooperation with third countries and tougher measures against people smugglers. (Read more: Migration: Parliament calls for urgent measures to save lives)

Europe should focus on saving lives when dealing with migration, said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in a speech at the European Parliament on 27 May. During the plenary session he called attention to the 1,800 people who drowned while crossing the Mediterranean this year: “Europe has an important role to play and a collective responsibility to act. Saving lives should be the priority.” He also discussed sustainable development and preventing violent extremism. (Read more: Ban Ki-moon on migration: “Saving lives should be the top priority”)

Millions of people are on the run in places such as Syria and Nigeria due to the rise of violent extremism, many of them receiving essential aid from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Its president Peter Maurer was in the European Parliament to meet the foreign affairs committee on 26 May and President Martin Schulz on 27 May. We talked to him to find out what life is like in these crisis-hit areas and how Europe could help to make a difference. (Read more: Red Cross: "Life in Syria after years of conflict has become very difficult")

Religious minorities in the Middle East are increasingly under threat from jihadist groups such as the so-called Islamic State (IS). To call attention to the situation of Christians and other religious minorities in the region, the human rights subcommittee and the EP's Mashreq delegation held a joint hearing on 26 February. "Death has become something banal," warned guest speaker Nawras Sammour, of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Syria, saying the upsurge in radicalism was worrying Christians. (Read more: Religious minorities at risk in the Middle East: "Death has become something banal")

MEPs condemned the violence carried out by the so-called Islamic State, also known as Daesh, and called for more support to help its victims. Because of the continuing conflict 12.2 million Syrians were in need of humanitarian assistance by January 2015. During the debate on the humanitarian crisis in Syria and Iraq on 11 February, MEPs also called for action on EU citizens joining jihadi groups and for more cooperation with other countries. (Read more: Syria and Iraq: “Words are not enough to help the people in this region”)

Following the Paris attacks the secretary-general of the Arab League has urged greater cooperation between it and the EU to counter extremism. Addressing Parliament's foreign affairs committee on 20 January Nabil El Araby said "the problems we face now are of universal character and are not confined to one place." He outlined how the Arab world looks upon Europe and said that "the European Union has been to the forefront of all just causes." (Read more: Nabil El Araby: "The EU is looked upon by many as the conscience of mankind today")

More than nine million Syrians have been forced to flee their homes in recent years due to the violence in the country, made worse by the Islamic State (IS), with many of them going to neighbouring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. The development committee discussed their situation and the humanitarian crisis in Syria on 3 November. The exchange of views followed October's plenary debates on the situation in Kobanê, which is under siege by IS, and the issue of Europeans joining IS. (Read more: Nine million and counting: how to help the Syrian refugees)

More than nine million Syrians have been forced to leave their homes in the last few years. Now, with IS advancing in both Syria and Iraq, the situation is getting worse. “No conflict has ever seen so many deaths, so many refugees, so many internally displaced people in so little time,” said Frej Fenniche, a representative of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), during a hearing on 13 October organised by human rights subcommittee. (Read more: Syria and Iraq: growing numbers of refugees put pressure on neighbouring countries )

Asylum applications in the EU were up by some 100,000 in 2013 compared to the year before, while at least 600 people are believed to have died while trying to reach Europe via maritime routes. MEPs will discuss the latest developments on 24 September when the European Commission presents the latest annual report on immigration and asylum to the civil liberties committee. The report stressed that the EU needed to do more on immigration, asylum and the smuggling and trafficking of human beings. (Read more: Dying to get to Europe: nearly 450,000 asylum seekers a year make their way to EU)

The murders of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid worker David Haines by the so-called Islamic State (IS) were strongly condemned by the European Parliament in a resolution voted on Thursday. The EU must use all possible means to help the Iraqi national and local authorities combat the IS, including appropriate military assistance, they said. They also urged the international community to cut off IS resources, and called for a political solution to the Syrian conflict. (Read more: Islamic State: step up EU and international efforts to end the killing, MEPs say )

New search and rescue rules to clarify how border guards serving in Frontex sea operations should deal with migrants and where they should disembark them were approved by Parliament on Wednesday. The regulation, already informally agreed by Parliament and Council negotiators, should enter into force before this summer. (Read more: Migrants: Parliament approves search and rescue rules to prevent deaths at sea)

The use of chemical weapons in Syria is a war crime and a crime against humanity which demands a clear, strong, targeted and united response, not excluding eventual deterrent measures, MEPs said in a resolution passed by a show of hands on Thursday. The EU should promote a region-wide de-escalation process and increase aid to Syrian refugees, they added. (Read more: Deterrent measures against Syria must not be excluded, say MEPs)

Close to 3.5 million Syrians will have to seek refuge in another country by the end of the year, according to the UN adding one more sombre note to this year's World Refugee Day on 20 June. After two years of violence, the conflict still shown no signs of being resolved any time soon. The EU has allocated more than €300 million in funding to help relieve the humanitarian crisis in Syria and recently MEPs gave their backing to adding €19.5 million for food, shelter and medical supplies. (Read more: World Refugees Day: the human cost of the Syrian conflict)

The situation in Syria continues to deteriorate and the violence threatens to spread to neighbouring countries. MEPs will debate what can be done for the millions of refugees during next week's plenary session on 22 May. We spoke to Elmar Brok, a German member of the EPP group who is the chair of the foreign affairs committee, about the risks facing the region. (Read more: Elmar Brok on Syria: "We have many reasons to be concerned")

REF. : 20130905TST18719
MEPs visit Nizip refugee camp in Turkey

MEPs have visited Turkey to assess the provision of facilities for Syrian refugees and as well as the financing of education, medicine and food. (9 February 2016)

International Women´s Day 2016
PHOTO 2) Passau station, Germany. Refugees wait patiently before getting into the train that will finally take them to a host town in Germany.  © Marie Dorigny / European Union 2015  
PHOTO 3) ‘Paul-Hallen’ registration centre, Passau, Germany. When the refugees arrive in this small German town on the border with Austria the end of their journey is almost in sight. Here they can finally apply for asylum so they can stay in Europe. © Marie Dorigny / European Union 2015  
Inside the Calais camps: the struggles of many women

EPTV investigates efforts to bring healthcare and psychological support for women in the camps (23 February 2016)

Seeking asylum in the EU

What exactly happens when someone applies for asylum in the EU? Find out the definition of an asylum seeker, what their rights and obligations are, and what the process is like.

No place to call home for millions of refugees

Forced to flee their home due to war, persecution and a host of other trials, the journey into Europe can prove almost as treacherous for refugees.

Schengen at risk

An investigation into efforts at the Greek and Swedish borders to manage migration that have come under heavy criticism for putting the Schengen area at risk (23 February 2016)

"We will not turn back the boats," Nato chief

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says Nato strives for a more constructive relationship with Russia and talks about the new monitoring mission in the Aegean Sea. (23 February 2016)

Europe responds to Greek plan for island hotspots

MEPs joined EU institution and field experts to react to the call for new registration centres on the Greek islands and again stressed the deplorable situation for migrants. (7 December 2015)

How to counter the Islamic State?

Looking for a way to end the conflict, MEPs analysed and debated the worsening situation in Syria.

Federica Mogherini: "Only Syria diplomacy can defeat ISIS"

The EU's foreign affairs chief also expressed optimism on the new era of Iran/Western relations. (20-01-2016)