Plans to hold elections in Syria on June 3 have been dismissed as a farce by both the US and the EU.
UN head Ban Ki-Moon also denounced the plans, saying they could destroy efforts to negotiate a deal between the two sides in the civil war.
The conflict in Syria began in March 2011, after protests broke out in Daraa province over the arrest- and alleged torture- of 15 school children for scrawling anti-government graffiti on a wall.
Syrians originally began protesting for more rights and better democracy, but after initial peaceful protests grew violent, protesters began to call for an end to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
The conflict was formally declared a civil war by the International Red Cross 18 months later. The international community also intervened in August 2013 when media reports from Syria suggested chemical weapons had been used against civilians, a practice banned in the 1925 Geneva Convention on chemical weapons.
The Syrian conflict has so far claimed the lives of over 100,000 people according to the United Nations and an estimated 40% of the country’s population are now refugees.
Bombs continued to fall across Syria as elections were announced.
Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said the elections were simply a mechanism to “sustain his [Assad’s] dictatorship.”
The country’s sizeable internal refugee population, estimated at over 6.5million, would be ineligible to vote in the upcoming election, as would those forced to seek refuge outside of the country- another 2.5 million.
A new law requiring candidates for election to have been resident in the country for the past ten years would also effectively bar the many opposition candidates who have been forced to flee the country from running for election.
The FCO and the UN both advocate abandoning the elections and focusing on a process of negotiation between the two sides in the conflict.
Who is taking Syria’s refugees?
Until now, an estimated 2.58 million refugees have left Syria to seek asylum in neighbouring countries. But where are they going? Neighbouring countries Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey all have sizeable refugee populations- Lebanon’s is now equal to a quarter of its indigenous population, at over 1 million refugees, and Turkey is also housing close to a million.
Britain has been reticent but accepted 500 refugees earlier this year. In the rest of Europe, Germany has been quickest to open its borders- statistics from January show the country had accepted 10,000 refugees while the US had issued an open-ended pledge for the asylum of Syrian refugees
In South America, both Colombia and Brazil have yet to refuse a request for asylum, although no data is available on how many refugees have been accepted. Brazil is believed to have a Syrian refugee population of around 333 refugees. In Colombia, refugees are provided with visas and Spanish lessons.