Ban Ki-moon.jpg
Photograph: HINA/ Denis CERIĆ/ ik

Wealthy countries must show much greater hospitality to Syrians by offering nearly half a million places for long-term resettlement, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday at UN Syrian refugee conference in Geneva.

"We are here to address the biggest refugee and displacement crisis of our time. This demands an exponential increase in global solidarity," Ban said.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) convened a meeting of more than 90 countries at the Swiss UN seat, aiming to win new pledges for resettlement, family reunification programmes, as well as work and study visas.

These programmes are separate from usual asylum procedures. They are aimed especially at vulnerable groups including women, children and people with medical needs.

Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and North African countries have been shouldering the task of hosting most of the Syrians who have fled the war in their country.

The 4.8 million Syrian war refugees in these countries have put serious strains on state budgets and public services.

"Communities hosting refugees in neighbouring countries are exhausted," Ban said.

So far, wealthy countries have pledged 178,000 of the 480,000 resettlement spots needed for Syrians, according to UN estimates.

Ban said countries should not demonize refugees but should see the opportunities that the people could bring to their new host countries.

"Today, they are refugees. Tomorrow, they can be students and professors, scientists and researchers, workers and caregivers," he said.

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