I propose to take Questions Nos. 39 and 62 together.
The protracted crisis in Syria has resulted in unprecedented levels of humanitarian need, requiring a sustained response from the international community. As the number of fatalities reaches an estimated 130,000 people, there are now over nine million people in need of immediate life-saving support. More than 6.5 million people are displaced within Syria, and nearly 2.5 million Syrians have fled to take refuge in neighbouring countries.
It is simply unacceptable that while millions of people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, indiscriminate attacks on civilians and humanitarian personnel continue unabated. As the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate, the challenge of reaching trapped civilians in urgent need of live-saving assistance remains one of most difficult issues.
While reaching people under siege is an urgent priority, humanitarian access across the whole country remains exceptionally difficult as a result of increasing disregard by armed groups on all sides of their obligations under International Humanitarian Law.
Recent events during the agreed ceasefire in Homs, when UN and Syrian Arab Red Crescent humanitarian teams were deliberately targeted as they worked on the evacuation of people who have been besieged, with little aid, for nearly two years, highlighted the conditions under which humanitarian agencies are working and the ongoing threats to the lives of their personnel.
Ireland welcomes the extension of the ceasefire in Homs and strongly supports the statement last week by UN Under Secretary General and Emergency Relief Co-ordinator Valerie Amos, calling on Security Council members to use their influence on the parties to ensure they abide by humanitarian pauses and ceasefires, give humanitarian actors regular and sustained access, and commit in writing to uphold humanitarian law and systematic access across lines.
Last month, in Kuwait, at the second international pledging conference for Syria, I pledged a further Irish contribution of €12 million for humanitarian assistance in 2014. This will be disbursed to key UN partners, the Red Cross movement and NGO partners, supporting the provision of life saving humanitarian supplies and essential services such as health, education and protection. Since the start of the crisis, Ireland has committed to providing more than €26 million for the relief effort in Syria. We have also provided supplies of non-food items from our emergency relief stocks held in Dubai and specialist emergency personnel under the Rapid Response Initiative. There has been a huge international effort to provide assistance. The combined EU pledges in Kuwait amounted to some €550 million. However, this funding will not have the impact it needs to have if humanitarian agencies continue to be denied access to those in greatest need trapped in areas under siege.
Ireland has always argued the need to keep the humanitarian issue at the top of the international agenda while understanding that only a political solution can bring the suffering of the Syrian people to an end. The ongoing talks in Geneva offer the best hope for a permanent end to the conflict and suffering in Syria.