The situation in Syria remains grave. Since 2011, the Syria conflict has cost the lives of well over 400,000 people. As the conflict enters its ninth year, nearly 12 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria, and more than 80 per cent of people live below the poverty line. Over 6 million people are displaced inside Syria, and a further 5.6 million have fled to neighbouring countries and the wider region. The Assad regime and its allies have repeatedly targeted civilians, through deliberate attacks, including chemical attacks, on civilian infrastructure such as homes, hospitals and schools, the use of “starve or surrender” techniques and the denial of humanitarian assistance, and forced displacement in the interest of demographic engineering. Other groups, most notably ISIS, have also perpetrated atrocities.
While the conflict had been less intense in recent months, in recent weeks there has been an escalation of the conflict in the north-west of Syria, in the area around Idlib. Conflict there between the regime and other armed groups has displaced almost 200,000 people, has killed over 100 civilians, and has left hundreds injured. I condemn in particular the airstrikes that are reported to have targeted medical facilities and schools.
All parties must uphold their ceasefire commitments and cease military activities in the Idlib region. Any attempt at a purely military approach to the situation there risks endangering hundreds of thousands of others. Those with influence on the Syrian regime have a responsibility to exert pressure to ensure that civilians are protected, and to encourage the Syrian Government to engage fully with the UN-led peace process.
Ireland and the EU firmly believe that eight years of war have shown that military action cannot bring lasting peace to Syria. We support the UN-led efforts to bring about a political resolution to the conflict, in accordance with the 2012 Geneva Communiqué and UN Security Council Resolution 2254. What is needed to bring a sustainable end to the violence is a Syrian-owned and Syrian-led process. The EU provides direct assistance to the Geneva peace talks and has launched, in coordination with the UN, an initiative to develop political dialogue with key actors from the region to identify common ground.
The UN Special Envoy’s efforts are currently focused on establishing a constitutional committee, made up of Syrians of different political views, to chart the way forward for the country and unlock a broader political process. The UN Special Envoy has been engaging directly with Russia, Turkey and Iran on this, and we believe that they have a responsibility to support and assist his efforts.
At the EU-League of Arab States Ministerial meeting in February, I raised the ongoing conflict in Syria with my EU and Arab counterparts. At the EU-League of Arab States Summit in Egypt later that month, which the Taoiseach attended, EU and Arab countries reaffirmed their commitment to the UN-led process in Syria, and agreed that any sustainable solution to the Syrian conflict requires a genuine political transition.
Ireland is a strong and consistent donor to the Syria crisis response and our overall funding supports those in need inside Syria as well as Syrian refugees and vulnerable host communities in the region. In March 2019, Ireland pledged a further €25 million to the crisis, bringing the total amount of humanitarian assistance committed to the Syria crisis to over €143 million since 2012 – our largest ever response to any single crisis. To date, Ireland has disbursed €138m of this funding. Through its annual contributions to the EU Institutions, Ireland also supports the EU’s humanitarian response in Syria.