I reiterate my unreserved condemnation of the violence perpetrated against civilians that has characterised the Syrian conflict to date. The brutal repression of dissent by the Assad regime, which has included use of chemical weapons and other barbarous tactics, has cost the lives of over 400,000 people. It has led to a situation in which more than 13 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, over 6.6 million people are displaced inside Syria alone, and a further 5.6 million people have fled to neighbouring countries and the wider region. The recent increase in violence, in particular the vicious siege of Eastern Ghouta, underscores the extent to which an end to the violence is urgently needed in order to relieve the suffering of the Syrian people.
Ireland has consistently supported EU sanctions targeting the regime and its supporters, and will continue to do so as long as the situation on the ground justifies these measures. The relevant working groups in Brussels keep the impact of sanctions under review and propose options to address any unintended negative impacts where they are identified. For example, in 2016 the EU amended the Syria sanctions regime to make it easier for NGOs operating in Syria to buy fuel. In 2017, EU Member States including Ireland consulted with NGOs to identify any further difficulties they were experiencing in carrying out humanitarian work in Syria that may have been linked to the sanctions. Based on the feedback of the NGOs, the European Commission published a Frequently Asked Questions document to clarify certain provisions of the sanctions identified as unclear by NGOs, as well as the humanitarian exemptions and derogations. I am not aware of any report specifically having been prepared on the issue raised by the Deputy in the early months of this year.
In April, EU Member States reviewed best practice guidelines on humanitarian exemptions, with a view to facilitating the work of NGOs responding to humanitarian crises, including the crisis in Syria. It is welcome that there is work going on to implement the findings of previous reviews. I can assure the Deputy that officials from my Department will continue to follow these discussions closely.
Ireland is a strong and consistent donor to the Syria crisis, and our funding supports those in need inside Syria as well as Syrian refugees and vulnerable host communities in the region. Last month, Ireland pledged €25 million in humanitarian support for 2018 - maintaining the same level of assistance as provided last year. This brings Ireland’s support since 2012 to over €109 million – our largest ever response to a single crisis.
Through its annual contributions to EU Institutions, Ireland also supports the EU’s humanitarian response in Syria. The EU and its member states are the single largest donor to the Syria crisis, having mobilised over €10.6 billion in humanitarian, stabilisation and resilience assistance since 2012. We will continue to work with our EU and UN partners to ensure that this humanitarian assistance reaches those in need in a timely and effective manner.