I reiterate my unreserved condemnation of the violence perpetrated against civilians that has characterised the Syrian conflict to date. The conflict, which is now in its eighth year, has cost the lives of well over 400,000 people. Over 13 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria, over 6 million people are internally displaced, and a further 5.6 million people have fled to neighbouring countries and the wider region.
Since 2012, Ireland has provided over €116 million in humanitarian assistance to the Syria crisis, making this Ireland’s largest contribution to a single crisis in recent years. At the 2018 Brussels Donor conference, Ireland pledged to contribute a further €25 million in 2018, and over €23 million of this has been disbursed so far. Irish funding has supported the work of UN, Red Cross/ Red Crescent and established NGO partners. Ireland’s Syria funding is not generally programmed in the form of direct funding to local Syrian NGOs, and thus the Government has not funded the group that the Deputy refers to.
The organisation to which the Deputy refers is a volunteer search and rescue organisation that operates in opposition-held areas. Its members have taken upon themselves the extremely hazardous work of saving lives in the most challenging and dangerous circumstances. This work has been acknowledged and supported by many EU member states.
It would not be appropriate for me to comment on the funding decisions of another EU Member State. However, I understand that the Government of the Netherlands has made clear that its decision to end its funding to this group, which will occur at the end of this year, does not represent a negative judgement on their work. It is rather a reaction to the shifting nature of the Syria conflict, and a changing assessment of where the greatest needs are expected to lie.
The protection of civilians is an obligation on all parties to conflicts, and I call on all parties to the fighting in Syria to take the necessary steps to ensure that civilians are not harmed, especially around Idlib, where there are particularly acute concerns. I also take this opportunity to reiterate my call for an immediate cessation of hostilities, respect for de-escalation agreements and full humanitarian access to all Syrians in need.