In an interview with Deutschlandradio Kultur on 23 April 2013 Markus Löning, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office, announced that Germany would take in 5000 refugees from Syria over the coming months. At the same time Löning spoke out against supplying arms to the Syrian opposition.
In his statement the Federal Foreign Minister said that easing the oil embargo should allow normal life to resume, but what effect can it actually have, given that the measure is temporary and expires again on 1 June?
Well, we have decided on a series of measures to help the Syrian opposition improve people’s lives in the areas under its control. Aspects of these include basic health care, they include providing people with emergency shelters and similar resources, they include easing the oil embargo so that the Syrian opposition can obtain its own income. Yet we are also in the process of establishing a trust fund in which funds can be pooled to help the local population, among other things. We have also set up a project to assist with reconstruction. I have to say what we can do there at the moment is very basic, but the people in the opposition-controlled areas need our support, of course.
How will you guarantee that the money reaches the right people and falls into the right hands?
That is of course very difficult in situations like this. We are doing our utmost to ensure that it does. At the end of the day in a civil‑war situation like this we can, of course, never give absolute guarantees, but from what we can see everything indicates that the money is indeed getting to the people.
The arms embargo is also going to expire, in May, and calls to provide military support for the Syrian opposition are growing louder and louder. What do you think about that?
I am not in favour of supplying arms, but I think providing the opposition with protective equipment is important. The Federal Government would be willing to do that, for instance to supply body armour and similar articles to protect them from attacks. The problem with weapons is that we don’t know where they would end up, given this state of civil war. Where would they be used next, where would they then go? Take the current situation in Libya. Arms that were there are now floating around across the entire region. I am very sceptical about weapons, but I think body armour and similar protective equipment for those being attacked is a good thing.
Unlike Germany, Franceand Britainare considering supplying arms. Is that what a fully coordinated European foreign policy which also incorporates humanitarian aspects looks like?
I don’t think any of our European partners take this issue lightly. It is a very difficult question, and of course you could argue that fending off air attacks with helicopters and similar tactics constitute defence measures. Yes, these are indeed very difficult issues, and I wouldn’t want to be too quick to condemn anyone. I believe that all our European partners are giving the problem really very intensive thought: what can we do, what, in our view, is the right thing to do to protect the Syrian opposition? And that is at the heart of what we as Europeans jointly want to achieve.
The fact is that around one million people have fled from Syriato other countries. Chancellor Merkel has commended Lebanon’s involvement in the refugee problem, for example, and has spoken to the Lebanese President on the phone on this issue. Is that a diplomatic way of evading responsibility by telephone?
We supported the refugees in Jordan, we are also supporting the Lebanese government and the UN Relief and Works Agency in Lebanon, we are providing more than 100 million euros to accommodate refugees outside Syria. What the Federal Government is doing is considerable. German NGOs are also helping there, as is the Federal Agency for Technical Relief. Germany is really doing a lot. In this area I think we are the second or third-largest donor.
At the end of January you urged the Federal Interior Minister and his colleagues from the Länder to make a case for Germanytaking in Syrian refugees. Was this appeal successful?
I’m pleased to say it was. The interior ministers have now agreed to provide 5000 Syrian refugees with a new perspective here in Germany, which I think is great.
What do you mean by a new perspective?
Over the coming months we will take in 5000 people here in Germany. Last week an initial fact-finding mission went to Lebanon and Jordan to see how we can identify potential candidates and for whom it would make sense to come. We are currently working on how exactly we should approach the task, but the interior ministers responded to the appeal, and I think that is a very good thing. Germany is in a position to help refugees and the concept behind my appeal was primarily to take in those who have family members in Germany, where families contact us and say, “My brother, my cousin, my sister are sitting in refugee camps or wherever and I could put them up and look after them here in my house.” And my appeal to the interior ministers was primarily to take in these people.
Help Syrian refugees, that is what Markus Löning, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office, wants to do, and that is what he is working for. Thank you for the interview in “Ortszeit”!
Thank you to you too.
Questions: Ute Welty. Reproduced by kind permission of dradio.de.
Listen to the complete interview on Deutschlandradio Kultur: