World nations drag heels on Syria refugee resettlement

A boy plays in a puddle at a makeshift camp occupied by migrants and refugees at the Greek-Macedonian border near the village of Idomeni on March 24, 2016.
A boy plays in a puddle at a makeshift camp occupied by migrants and refugees at the Greek-Macedonian border near the village of Idomeni on March 24, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

GENEVA (AFP) - A UN conference aimed at securing new homes for nearly half a million Syrian refugees ended on Wednesday (March 30) with only marginal increases in the number of resettlement places offered.

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), which hosted the one-day meet, said from the outset that it did not anticipate governments would make significant new pledges at the conference in Geneva.

In a statement, UNHCR noted said it remained far from its goal of having confirmed new countries of residency for 10 per cent of Syria's 4.8 million refugees - or 480,000 people - within three years.

Before the conference, world nations had offered to take in 178,000 people.

On Wednesday, "states pledged modest increases in the number of resettlement and humanitarian admission places, bringing the total to date to some 185,000", a UNHCR statement said.

"I am under no illusion that we are appealing for this at a very difficult time, and within a troubling context," UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi said in the statement.

The Geneva meet followed a conference in London in February where nations pledged US$11 billion (S$14.9 billion) to help manage one of the largest displacements of people since World War II.

Aside from the nearly five million people forced to flee Syria during its five-year civil war, the UN estimates that another 6.6 million are internally displaced.

Syria's neighbours, especially Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey have absorbed most of the refugee burden, with the UN repeatedly calling on wealthier nations to do their fair share.

But efforts to secure resettlement spots in the West for Syria's displaced have been hampered by rising anti-migrant rhetoric voiced by some political leaders, who often site domestic security concerns as a reason to keep people out.