By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, March 30 – U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on all countries on Wednesday to accept nearly half a million Syrian refugees for resettlement over the next three years.
Ban, kicking off a ministerial conference hosted by the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR in Geneva, said: “This demands an exponential increase in global solidarity.”
The United Nations is aiming to re-settle some 480,000 refugees, about 10 percent of those now in neighboring countries, by the end of 2018, but has conceded it needs to overcome widespread fear and political wrangling.
Ban urged countries to pledge new and additional pathways for admitting the refugees, such as resettlement or humanitarian admission, family reunions, as well as labor and study opportunities.
Filippo Grandi, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said the refugees were facing increasing obstacles to find safety.
“We must find a way to manage this crisis in a more humane, equitable and organized manner. It is only possible if the international community is united and in agreement on how to move forward,” Grandi said.
The five-year conflict has killed at least 250,000 people and driven nearly 5 million refugees abroad, mostly to neighboring Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.
“If Europe were to welcome the same percentage of refugees as Lebanon in comparison to its population, it would have to take in 100 million refugees,” Grandi said.
Lebanon’s minister of social affairs, Rachid Derbas, said his country of 4 million was struggling to host 1 million official refugees and another 1 million Syrians who have not registered.
“Lebanon is on fragile ground and is taking on a heavy burden. If Lebanon fails, and is crushed by the burden, it may itself be a source of concern for the High Commissioner,” he warned.
The European Union sealed a deal this month with Turkey, which hosts 2.7 million Syrian refugees, that is intended to halt illegal migration flows to Europe in return for financial and political rewards for Ankara.
Turkey’s deputy foreign minister, Ali Naci Koru, called the deal a “game changer”.
Ban, referring to U.N.-led efforts to end the war, which resume in Geneva in April, said:
“We have a cessation of hostilities, by and large holding for over a month, but the parties must consolidate and expand it into a ceasefire, and ultimately to a political solution through dialogue.”