BEIRUT: Seventeen countries including the United States, France and Australia have agreed to receive quotas of refugees fleeing the bloody conflict in Syria, the UN refugee agency said on Wednesday.
“So far, United Nations High Commission for Refugees has 17 countries participating in the Syria resettlement/Humanitarian Admission Programme effort,” Peter Kessler, regional spokesperson for the UN refugee agency UNHCR, told AFP.
“They are offering about 10,000 places (in total), with some programmes mainly aimed at the 2014 calendar year,” he added.
The decision comes amid criticism of some Western nations for failing to share the burden created by the exodus of at least two million people from Syria.
So far, Syria’s neighbours – Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq – have absorbed the majority of the refugees, but the influx has strained resources and caused tensions.
The problem is particularly acute in Lebanon, which currently hosts at least 760,000 registered refugees.
The real number of Syrians in Lebanon, with its own population of four million, is probably closer to one million.
“There are currently more than 2.1 million refugees,” Kessler said.
“Ten thousand resettlement places overseas is an important first step but is a drop in the ocean compared to the enormous needs and the huge number of Syrians being accommodated by countries in the region.”
Under the agreement, the UNHCR will assess refugees for relocation to the 17 host countries, giving priority to the most vulnerable, Kessler said.
“Vulnerability is based on various issues,” he said, and includes people with disabilities, single-headed households and victims of sexual or other forms of abuse.
How many refugees each of the 17 countries will receive has not yet been decided, though reports in France have said it will take just 1,200 people.
Sweden, which is among the 17, has already said it will grant residence permits to Syrian refugees already in the country, but they cannot apply for asylum at Swedish embassies.
Since early 2012, Sweden has received about 14,700 asylum applications from Syrians.
The violence that erupted in Syria after anti-regime protests began in March 2011 has killed more than 115,000 people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights NGO.
Two million Syrians have become refugees, and millions more have been internally displaced.