I thank the Chairman and members of the committee for inviting the UNHCR to meet them today. I am happy to be here with colleagues from GOAL. The UNHCR works in partnership with many international non-governmental organisations based in Ireland in the countries surrounding Syria and, indeed, in Syria. It is a mark of the co-operation that takes place between the UNHCR and international NGOs that representatives of both GOAL and the UNHCR are before the committee today. We are very happy to be here at the committee's invitation.
This crisis is of a huge magnitude, as Barry Andrews has outlined. The High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. António Guterres, has been speaking about this crisis for many years and, indeed, addressed this committee in October 2012 on the occasion of his mission to Ireland. One of the messages he has been promoting recently is that while this crisis is of a very big scale, it is manageable for Europe. I wish to focus on a number of matters with which we would appeal to the committee members to get involved. One is the resolution that will be brought before the Oireachtas, presumably next week, on foot of decisions to be taken in Brussels today. The other relates to funding appeals that are under way at present. The third relates to political support, which refugees and others really need at present. While the crisis is of a huge scale, there are some manageable things with which politicians, UN agencies and NGOs can begin to engage. Ultimately, of course, the solution to this crisis is a resolution of the conflicts that are causing people to flee.
The High Commissioner for Refugees and the UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, have been appealing to members states, through the institutions in the UN, to take action to address this conflict. While we hope that some actions will be taken, in the interim the United Nations agencies such as the UNHCR are doing everything they can to provide humanitarian support. There is no humanitarian solution to this crisis; there must be a political solution to the crisis and to the conflicts that are causing people to flee.
I know that the Secretary General of the United Nations is doing everything he can to try to encourage member states and political entities at the United Nations to take the decisions that need to be taken.
I do not need to labour too much the background to the UNHCR. It is the UN refugee agency and we work under the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees. My colleague, Jody Clarke, who works in external relations, and I work in the Irish office and very closely with the Departments of Justice and Equality and Foreign Affairs and Trade on refugee issues.
Since the beginning of 2015, 477,906 people have arrived in Europe by sea. We gave some statistics and a background note to the committee in advance of the meeting. This is double the figure for all of 2014 and seven times the figure recorded in 2013 and represents an increase to almost 500,000 people travelling by sea to Europe. I want to talk about why that is. First, around the world conflicts that have been rolling on for many years have continued and many new conflicts have erupted or been reignited. There are eight in Africa, including those in the Côte d’Ivoire, the Central African Republic, Libya and Mali, conflicts familiar to members of the committee. There is the situation in the Middle East and what is happening in Syria, Iraq and now also in Yemen. There are other reasons for movement within Europe, while there is the prospect of greater movement if we consider what is happening in Ukraine. As a result of all these activities and conflicts, almost 60 million people were displaced in 2014, that is, between internally displaced people and refugees. This compares to a figure of 51.2 million a year ago and 37 million a decade ago. Most of the people in question, almost nine out of ten, live in developing countries. There is a lot of awareness now of what a refugee crisis looks like because we are seeing it in the European Union, but it is still a tiny proportion of the global displacement figure. In 2014, 86% of the world’s refugees were hosted in developing countries. People flee to neighbouring countries and do not move further. We are seeing some movement into the European Union, which is galvanising people’s awareness of what movement looks like, but we need to keep this in perspective. It is a very small movement when we consider the global picture.
A second key issue to explain why we are where we are is that the war in Syria has become the single biggest driver of new displacement. Since the conflict began in 2011, 7.5 million people have been forced out of their homes inside the country. They are internally displaced. They are in a dire position because many are beyond the reach of any assistance from non-governmental organisations, NGOs, or the United Nations, although attempts are made to try to assist them internally. More than 4 million more have been forced to flee Syria and go to other countries. While there is growing awareness in the European Union of people arriving here, Turkey hosts 2 million and Lebanon, approximately 1.3 million. Jordan hosts over 600,000 registered refugees but approximately 1.3 million Syrians are on its territory. The numbers in the European Union are small by comparison with these figures. Many of the people concerned have been hosted in Turkey and Lebanon for many years and are only now beginning to consider whether they should move on.
The preliminary findings of a recent UN study show 70% of Syrian refugee households in Lebanon live below the national poverty line of just over $3 per person per day. People are living in Lebanon where there are no official camps and are quite destitute. Ireland has recently received some resettled refugees who have come from Lebanon. I met them last Friday. They have been living for years without an income; their children have not been in education and having been in that situation for between three and five years, with nothing improving, they are considering whether they should take even very risky journeys to move. There is a lack of safe and legal alternatives for people to move. The UNHCR has been advocating for many years with member states to try to increase legal alternatives for refugees and those who need protection to travel to countries where they could find protection, for example, through the issue of humanitarian visas. The Syrian humanitarian admission programme that the Irish authorities established was a very good initiative. It will I hope enable 114 people to enter Ireland in safety.
We have assisted the Irish authorities with that programme. There is a resettlement programme in Ireland and other countries also have larger scale resettlement programmes. However, more could be done to facilitate access to work visas, student visas and humanitarian visas which would allow Syrians to travel to other countries within the European Union and elsewhere.
Before I conclude, I would like to address what is happening at European level and then I would welcome any questions members may have. At European Union level, as the committee will be aware, there was a further extraordinary meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Ministers yesterday which was attended by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald. An outcome document has been published. The leaders are meeting today to, hopefully, endorse and ratify that document and look at broader issues that need to be put in place.
The relocation mechanism agreed on by a vote at the meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Ministers yesterday will facilitate the relocation of 160,000 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece - people likely in need of protection - to other member states. Ireland and the UNHCR have very much welcomed the measure. Ireland will opt into this measure. We understand the measure will be brought before the Houses of the Oireachtas next week and we encourage it to move quickly to ratify the measure. Once the opt-in is established, Ireland will participate in the relocation mechanism whereby these asylum seekers will be relocated to other European Union member states. UNHCR has greatly welcomed the measure and has welcomed the fact a decision has finally been taken which, hopefully, will be ratified by the leaders tomorrow. However, we have highlighted that this measure alone will not solve the European Union's crisis. The relocation of 160,000 asylum people is a good start. We indicated many weeks ago that a preliminary estimate of the UNHCR of the needs was 200,000 people, so those needs will need to be looked at and kept under review.
Relocation is one measure but many other measures need to accompany it and we have highlighted what those are. For the relocation mechanism to work, Greece and Italy need to be supported to enhance their reception capacity. We have colleagues, and we have been in contact with them in recent days, who are working in Kos and Lesbos. Thousands of people are arriving in Greece every day and the facilities are not there to assist people on arrival. Those facilities need to be put in place in Greece and the facilities in Italy need to be enhanced. The decision allows for Greece and Italy to provide updated roadmaps to the European Commission to set out how those reception arrangements will be improved. That will require the assistance of member states, including Ireland, the European Asylum Support Office and other European institutions.
We need to stabilise the situation in the European Union's neighbouring countries. Much more needs to be done in terms of aid support to Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and the countries that are already hosting refugees. The UN has launched a combined appeal for over $4 billion to support activities in that area and the latest estimate shows it is 37% funded. Much more needs to be done in terms of the funding position to assist those neighbouring states.
In terms of the exact position of the European Union's Mediterranean crisis, we have put out what is called our special Mediterranean initiative funding appeal for $50 million to assist the countries receiving refugees and asylum seekers at the moment. That initiative is currently 5% funded. We are continuing to work with states to attract additional funding.
The key lesson from the chaotic scenes in recent days and weeks in the European Union is that piecemeal actions will not work. There needs to be a unified response by the European Union to this crisis which we have termed as "manageable". We hope that Ireland and this committee, through its various parliamentary networks, will do what it can to encourage the European Union to respond in a unified way to this humanitarian crisis.