The conflict in Syria continues to escalate in scale and scope with devastating humanitarian consequences for the civilian population. There are now over 4 million people in need of life saving humanitarian assistance within Syria and over 1.3 million refugees in neighbouring countries. As the conflict enters its third year, the coping mechanisms of the internally displaced and the refugee populations are severely depleted and the numbers in acute need are increasing every day. The Tánaiste saw first-hand the terrible suffering being endured by people who are forced to flee the violence when he visited refugee camps in Turkey last week. Ireland has responded generously to the humanitarian crisis in Syria and its neighbouring countries, and to date has provided over €8.15 million in assistance through long standing and reputable partners such as WFP, UNHCR, UNICEF and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The Government recognises the significant challenges involved in reaching those most in need within Syria, and the Tánaiste has consistently raised concerns about humanitarian access at the EU Foreign Affairs Council. The constraints are many. 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, particularly in opposition controlled areas. Restrictions imposed by the Assad regime, combined with logistical constraints and increasing insecurity, make it very difficult to access the most vulnerable populations.
Despite these challenges, it is a fact that our humanitarian partners on the ground are succeeding in reaching increasing numbers of vulnerable people. During consultations this week in Dublin I was informed by Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director of World Food Programme that her organisation is reaching 2 million Syrians, including about 500,000 in opposition held areas. This represents a scale-up of 300,000 people from the February distribution. Other partners such as the ICRC, working with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, have been reaching areas inaccessible to the United Nations. These are partners that have a demonstrated track record of effective humanitarian response in Syria, with strong strategies for targeting and delivery and robust systems for monitoring and accountability.
Despite these considerable achievements, it is acknowledged that many people still remain beyond the reach, particularly in the most insecure areas in the north of the country. The United Nations and other humanitarian actors on the ground are committed to urgently scaling up the scope and reach of the humanitarian response. The approval of additional NGO implementing partners and the decision to establish inter-agency operational field hubs is assisting the UN and other actors to reach the most vulnerable populations. UN hubs are already in place in Homs and Tartous, where the strengthened presence is enhancing outreach, and further hubs are planned for other areas.
Ensuring that our humanitarian contribution reaches people most in need, wherever they are, is a top priority for Ireland and we continue to closely monitor the humanitarian response in Syria and the region. As part of Ireland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union the Government has consistently raised the issue of humanitarian access and respect for humanitarian principles in Syria. This has also been a key issue for Ireland when represented at the ‘Friends of Syria’ conferences and the ‘Syria Humanitarian Forum’. Ensuring that humanitarian assistance reaches those most in need will be part of any future assessment of how we can further respond to humanitarian needs in Syria and the wider region.