What can be done to help? That is what donors and international organisations are discussing today at the 4th Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region
Humanitarian issues are on the agenda
For nearly a decade, the people in Syria have been suffering due to the armed conflict. Millions are dependent upon humanitarian assistance, not only in Syria, but also in neighbouring countries. The conference therefore has a number of objectives: It intends to raise funds for aid plans for Syria and the region that have been developed by the United Nations. Protection of civilians is to be improved, and humanitarian access to people in need must be ensured. Participants are also discussing how consequences of the COVID‑19 pandemic can be mitigated. Continued support is to be provided to the neighbouring countries that are hosting many people who have fled Syria, so that these countries can tackle the huge challenges they face.
During the conference, Foreign Minister Maas said that Germany will maintain its comprehensive humanitarian engagement:
There is hardly a way for us to fathom how greatly people in Syria are suffering. Yet it is our moral duty to support them with humanitarian aid. Germany pledges to provide 1.584 billion euro in assistance for people in Syria and in neighbouring countries.
Need for humanitarian assistance is on the rise
According to the United Nations, more than 11 million people in Syria are dependent on humanitarian aid. There are also around 5.7 million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries, such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, whereas 6.2 million Syrians have been displaced in their own country.
One great challenge is ensuring that aid reaches those in need in the first place: Time and again, armed actors on all sides, and especially the Syrian regime, its allies, and red tape, make it difficult for humanitarian aid workers to reach people in need. On a regular basis, humanitarian personnel are even attacked by parties to the conflict, especially those linked to the Syrian regime. The Syrian regime also regularly attempts to exert influence on the United Nations and other humanitarian actors, also with regard to the procurement and distribution of aid. Germany is committed to ensuring that procurement of aid supplies Syria remains transparent and is not exploited for other motives.
Also, the coronavirus pandemic presents additional challenges. According to official information of the Syrian regime, the country has so far had only a few cases of COVID‑19. The UN however fears that, due to the health care system being destroyed by the conflict, and because of cramped living conditions, the virus is actually spreading rapidly. Experts assume the number of unreported cases is high, because the country has very limited testing capacity.
Cross‑border aid in northwest Syria
Approximately four million people in northwest Syria, including some 2.8 million internally displaced persons, can only be provided with humanitarian aid from across the Turkish border. The foundation for supplying this aid is UN Security Council Resolution 2504, which authorises the UN to deliver aid to Syria via two border crossings. The current resolution is set to expire on 10 July. As a so‑called “co‑penholder”, Germany and its partner Belgium are working to achieve a twelve‑month renewal of the resolution. If this does not succeed, the humanitarian situation in northwest Syria will once again worsen dramatically. Also, Germany is campaigning to have the Yaroubiya crossing reinserted into the resolution, in particular so that health care can be provided to people in northeast Syria.
Germany: a humanitarian actor
Since the conflict in Syria broke out, Germany has been one of the biggest bilateral donors of humanitarian assistance for people in Syria and the region, providing a total of 3.7 billion euro in aid so far. This year, Germany is pledging to make available 600 million euro for humanitarian aid in Syria and the region in 2020.
Germany and its partners – the humanitarian organisations in the United Nations system, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and humanitarian NGOs – are committed to the principles of humanitarian action. Moreover, Germany believes it has a responsibility toward the people in the affected areas, and therefore engages in dialogue with decision-makers with a view to improving the situation of the local population. This includes, for example, conducting negotiations in the UN Security Council on humanitarian access to those who depend on emergency aid.
Humanitarian assistance can only address the consequences of the conflict in Syria, not its causes. A sustainable solution to the conflict can only be found under the political leadership of the United Nations. The UN Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, will participate in the conference and will brief stakeholders on his efforts to attain a peaceful and secure future for all Syrians. Since the conflict began, a lasting political solution has been Germany’s main objective. To this end, Germany supports the UN Special Envoy’s negotiations with a view to achieving, via a Syrian‑led and owned process, a transition to permanent political settlement to the conflict.