Tuesday, 11 May 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
55. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the work of his Department to ensure that the remaining international crossing between Turkey and Syria stays open, given that more than 2.7 million people are reliant on assistance arriving via this crossing with regard to the humanitarian crisis in Syria; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24021/21]
This question concerns what I understand is the one remaining international crossing between Turkey and Syria and ensuring that it stays open given the fact that 2.7 million people are reliant on assistance arriving via this crossing, with regard to the humanitarian crisis in Syria. I understand that people are now returning from Turkey to Syria because of the clampdowns and restrictions in Turkey. I ask the Minister to comment on this and on the UN resolution that governs this particular issue.
As the civil war in Syria enters its 11th year, humanitarian needs remain extremely high. Across Syria, 13.4 million people need humanitarian assistance, including almost 3 million people in the north-west of the country, which is the population served by this crossing.
On the Security Council, Ireland acts with Norway as co-penholder on the Syrian humanitarian file. In this role, we have strongly advocated for humanitarian aid to be able to reach all of the people who need it. We are undertaking extensive engagement with all relevant parties, including Council members, countries in the region, the UN system and civil society.
Since 2014, the UN Security Council has recognised through successive resolutions the importance of ensuring humanitarian access in Syria including, where necessary, across borders through UN mandated crossings. In July 2020 , the council extended the mandate for the UN to use the border crossing at Bab al-Hawa, between Turkey and north-west Syria, for the delivery of humanitarian aid for a period of 12 months. I visited Bab al-Hawa in January, and saw first-hand the scale of the operation, as well as the professionalism and transparency of the operation. Humanitarian need in the north west is even greater now than when the existing mandate was agreed last summer. The spread of Covid-19, and a deteriorating economic situation, have further exacerbated the humanitarian situation.
As we move towards the date of expiry of the current mandate on 10 July, it is clear that it would not be possible to meet the extensive humanitarian needs in Syria without the renewal of the cross-border resolution. This includes the border crossing in the north-west. The resolution should be renewed for as long as is necessary to meet the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people. It is not easy to get agreement on keeping that crossing open and we are doing everything we can to try to make sure that we get a successful outcome in a few weeks.
The Minister is to be commended on visiting and seeing for himself what is happening out there. Will he give us an account of what he saw, what his concerns are and how he sees this developing? This has been going on for quite a number of years, as he outlined. Millions of people stranded in no man's land depend on 1,000 lorries of food a month going in to feed them and look after them. What is the future? Will the Minister give us an idea of this? It is not a very safe area. Perhaps he will give us an outline of what he saw and what are his ideas for the future.
The reason this is so complicated is that north-west area is essentially Idlib province. The strategy within Syria in terms of the conflict there has essentially been to push the resistance and opposition to the regime in Syria into the north-west.
Some of those who support the Assad regime see aid flowing in a structured way from Turkey into north-west Syria essentially as feeding the resistance and prolonging the war and so the politics and the military decisions around aid. Some of them would also accuse that crossing of facilitating weapons as well as aid. I have to say from what I saw there - we were fairly robust in our conversations with the UN agencies that were there - that there is a very transparent process of ensuring that what should be crossing in to Idlib for humanitarian reasons is what is crossing in. The focus now has to be to try to manage the politics of this in the context of the politics of Syria on the UN Security Council, which is about as divisive as it gets, to try to find a way of ensuring this crossing stays open. I believe it can be done but it will not be easy.
My final question is about the UN resolution which expires on 10 July 2021, which is not far away now. Can the Minister give us an understanding of whether this resolution will be extended and whether there is agreement that it should be extended?
At present, there is not agreement that it will be extended. We are working on that and speaking to the key actors. Clearly, Russia is an absolutely key actor here, as is Turkey, as is Iran. Of course, some of these countries are not on the Security Council but are influential over countries that are.
The reason I am so exercised about this is that if one speaks to the NGOs that are providing daily humanitarian assistance, in some cases into tented villages or makeshift homes, one will learn that they are desperate to keep this supply chain open. The alternative to having a UN-monitored, UN-managed and transparent crossing where huge volumes of humanitarian assistance can be brought to close to 3 million people is to have unaccountable border crossings where sporadic aid will get in, but with such levels of aid certainly not being anything like sufficient to deal with the numbers who need it. In such circumstances, one will see mass movement of people - some of them coming across the border into Turkey - and all the tensions that will cause. From a humanitarian point of view, we will be appealing to all of the countries that are involved in this process to find a way of agreeing a resolution that can allow this aid to continue to flow.