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 Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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I thank our guests for the important life-saving and life-changing work they carry out. Their organisations are great ambassadors for Ireland. I do not believe we thank them enough. Our guests have attended meetings of various committees before but we need to thank them much more often. The work they are carrying out is making such a huge difference to people's lives. The Irish are really proud of the work in which they are engaged.

I listened to the comments on getting a peace process up and running. I do not know enough about the circumstances on the ground. We rely on news coming in and various organisations and we do not really know how accurate the news is. I accept our guests' point that there has to be a locally owned political resolution to the conflict. They have referred to a Syria-led and Syria-owned process but there are international actors involved. The call is for them to use their influence to bring about an immediate ceasefire and an inclusive peace process. Part of the difficulty is that many of the actors or those involved in the conflict believe there can be a military solution. The witnesses are saying the bombing has started. GOAL has stated that, in the area in which it operates, the air strikes are still happening. That is another part of the difficulty.

Our guests are asking that the Government uses whatever influence it has. What influence could we have on those international actors that are involved in the conflict? Included are the Syrian Government, the United States, the Russians, the Iranians and the Turks. Given that Ireland is a small country, what influence could it have? We should bear in mind that support and so on are given. Many of the actors do not see us as having a private agenda in regard to the work. How can Ireland champion the cause in question and work hard on bringing the organisations together?

Reference was made to refugees returning home. While the Lebanese Government had previously maintained an official position of neutrality toward Syrian refugees and that the policy should be implemented with the support of the UN, that policy has shifted considerably over the course of 2018. Our guests might expand on that. Those who wish to return are facing rape in some cases and conscription is ongoing. If the ideal is to have people return to safety, what needs to be done to ensure their protection? I suppose the Assad regime will be reluctant to allow people to go back. It will be seeking to scrutinise where people are coming from and their position. I presume all the refugees in the neighbouring countries want to return. What are they returning to? Reference was made to the lack of water and heating.

Reference was made to funding under the 2019 Syria regional refugee and resilience plan.

How much is the financial shortfall for this plan? I presume Ireland is meeting its pledges of funding and international commitments. The Minister said it was. I never understand the reasons that countries make pledges to that funding and do not honour them. What is that about? Is it a day of glory and then they return to their own countries and do not give the money. I would be interested in learning which countries make a pledge but do not live up to the commitment.

The United States made a decision to withdraw aid. Will the witnesses elaborate on how that is impacting on the people on the ground? In respect of the Syria regional refugee and resilience plan, they say money should not be spent on reconstruction, but how important is that reconstruction within Syria in encouraging people to return? If there is ongoing reconstruction, it will create jobs in building hospitals, homes and water installations. How important is that funding as part of the overall solution? We started by talking about the peace process, but if the armed groups involved in the conflict are not committed to the process, it will go nowhere. How important is it that groups involved in the peace process have a voice? I refer in particular to the Kurds. Kurdish political representatives have repeatedly called for their own separate seat at peace talks. I believe they should have one but they are very much part of the answers that are needed in the region. The Kurds have a significant role to play, they played a significant role in the fight against ISIS. How important is it that the indigenous people such as the Kurds have a say at the table?