The conflict in Syria has resulted in a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented scale. Flagrant violations of International Humanitarian Law and widespread human rights abuses have tragically become the norm inside Syria, with the lack of protection afforded to civilians being of huge concern. The number of fatalities is now in excess of 100,000 and there are currently almost 7 million people in need of emergency humanitarian assistance, many of whom are children. Fear and uncertainty have forced more than 2.1 million Syrians to flee to neighbouring countries, with well in excess of 4 million people displaced from their homes within Syria’s borders. Ireland’s total support in response to this humanitarian crisis is now almost €11 million. This makes Ireland one of the most generous contributors in the world to the humanitarian response on a per capita basis.
As the Deputy is no doubt aware, inside Syria, excessive controls on aid agencies working in the country, the fragmentation of the armed opposition and the intensity of military confrontations have made the operating environment extremely volatile and insecure. Restrictions imposed by the Assad regime, combined with logistical constraints and increasing insecurity, have made it very difficult to reach many areas of Syria where large numbers of civilians are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. There are currently reports of more than half a million people trapped in rural Damascus in need of urgent assistance. Ireland reiterates the call of the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, in calling on all parties to agree to pauses in hostilities to allow humanitarian agencies immediate and unhindered access to evacuate the wounded and provide life-saving treatment and supplies in areas where fighting is ongoing, while civilians must be allowed to move to safer areas.
In this complex situation, it is highly unlikely that options such as humanitarian corridors would be effective. I share the caution of the United Nations’ humanitarian agencies, the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement and many of our other partners in respect of the calls for military intervention in support of humanitarian action. Such intervention could have the result of placing extremely vulnerable civilians and aid workers at further risk. I believe that negotiated access remains the most effective approach.
Notwithstanding our reservations on the establishment of humanitarian corridors, there are other measures which, if implemented, could reduce the impediments to humanitarian access. Ireland fully supports the UN’s demands for the free passage of medical supplies, the demilitarisation of medical facilities; the prior notification to civilians/aid convoys of military offensives; the designation of priority humanitarian routes to allow safe passage of aid convoys; the use of humanitarian pauses in fighting to allow humanitarian access to people; and the use of cross-border operations, where appropriate.
Moreover, with the attention of the world now clearly focused on Syria, and positive developments underway in relation to removing the threat of chemical weapons and restarting the political dialogue process, Ireland wants to ensure that this window of opportunity is also used to address the most pressing humanitarian challenges related to humanitarian access.