Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence

Refugee Situation in Syria: Discussion

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent) | Oireachtas source

I thank the witnesses for the helpful and valuable update they have given us. I thank them for the great front-line work they and their organisations are doing. It is important that we hear about the practical issues for the civilian people in Syria, how conditions are both for Syrians living in Syria and for those who are displaced in refugee camps and internally displaced as well.

Following up on the point made by Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan on the different prevailing conditions, depending on the region in which the organisations are working, are they witnessing the more severe issues relating security and people's safety? What is stopping refugees from returning?

I refer to the list of requests that the witnesses have provided us with and the headings "Peace", "Refugee Return" and "Aid Funding". Under the latter two headings relating to the return of refugees and the sustained commitment to aid, the question for our committee is how best we can support the asks of the witnesses. Brussels is hosting a third conference on supporting the future of Syria on 13 and 14 March and Ireland will be represented. Should the committee write to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade seeking commitments that Ireland will push to ensure that support to refugee returns is in line with the EU's commitment to their voluntary, dignified and safe return and that the Government will push to ensure funding is provided on a multi-annual basis to meet the needs of Syrians both in and outside Syria who require support? As part of those two requests, all the witnesses emphasised the need to ensure protection for humanitarian workers on the ground.

I have been working for some time in support of the work of Irish Syrian groups who have brought over members of the White Helmets. I am told that, even this week, the White Helmets - those civilian workers who are so bravely trying to support their fellow Syrians during air strikes from the Assad regime - are under ongoing threat within Syria. How we can ensure better protection for humanitarian workers is something that Ireland should be pushing for at the third Brussels conference. We have clearly heard the witnesses on the need for multi-annual funding. What can the committee do to support those asks?

The final point is on the bigger ask relating to peace and seeking support for a shared, comprehensive diplomatic strategy. The witnesses all referred in their submissions and again today to UN Security Council Resolution 2254 of 2015. I went back and read the resolution again and, of course, it now reads very sadly and tragically as being totally out of date, given what has happened since then. It looks for an inclusive and Syrian-led political process that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people but the Assad regime has won the de factovictory. It seems to me, as an outsider, from looking at the various reports, that the support provided to Assad and his regime by Russia, in particular, and Iran has meant that many of the aspirations in that resolution are no longer tenable.

Mr. O'Keeffe spoke about the UN efforts to establish a constitutional committee but they seem to have reached a stalemate because of the lack of co-operation from the regime. How can we on this committee, noting Ireland's role, seek to continue to push the aspirations in that UN resolution while recognising that the situation on the ground has moved on, and recognising the real tragedy of that, given there was a genuine democratic revolution being proposed in Syria at one point? I posted a film by Irish film-makers who have been in Syria and who have been seeking to spread support internationally for the democratic movement that had been in place in Syria but which now, it seems, has been defeated. In the context of the realpolitik of what is happening in Syria now, how can we promote that resolution and how can we support the organisations represented here in promoting it in the important work they are doing on the ground?


No comments

Log in or join to post a public comment.