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February 15, 2020 - Civilians flee from Idlib toward the north to find safety inside Syria near the border with Turkey. © Shutterstock
Since the war broke out in Syria in 2011, the situation has never been worse. Idlib, one of the last regions in Syria not in the hands of the government, is being harassed by the Syrian army and Russia. The attacks systematically target civilians and civilian targets, such as hospitals and schools.
The region is home to 3 million people, 900.000 people are on the run, including 60% children. Because of the extreme winter conditions, the refugees have to endure even more extreme hardships.
Additional humanitarian contribution
The situation of civilians in the Syrian conflict is unacceptable to Belgium. Our country is therefore making every effort to keep the conditions for civilians and refugees livable and humane. Belgium, for example, continues to make an unabated high contribution to humanitarian aid. In 2019, the total Belgian contribution amounted to 169.8 million euros, 25.4 million of which was for the crisis in the Syrian region.
Because the needs are so high, Belgium wants to set aside additional money for the Syrian crisis. “I will propose to the Council of Ministers in the coming weeks that an additional amount of 7 million euros be released from the humanitarian aid budget”, said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Development Cooperation Alexander De Croo in the Federal Parliament on 20 February 2020. "That money will go to the Syria Cross-border Fund, which is managed by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and which focuses specifically on that issue. That amount comes on top of the 17 million euros that we release each year for the OCHA's Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF)", said the minister.
Protection of citizens and children
Belgium has made human rights and the protection of citizens a spearhead of its non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council. A special focus is placed on children in armed conflicts.
As such, our country is holding the pen of the dossier on the humanitarian situation in Syria in the Security Council, together with Germany and Kuwait. It also chairs the working group 'children and armed conflicts'.
No matter how stuck the Syrian dossier may be - due in part to Russia's vetoes - Belgium has managed to achieve success. For example, more attention was paid to children in the Syrian conflict.
Together with Kuwait and Germany, our country also convened several Security Council meetings to address the escalating violence in and around Idlib and to call on all parties to comply with international humanitarian law. In August 2019, a ceasefire resolution in Idlib was presented.
December 19, 2019: People search for victims and survivors from the rubble of a building following multiple reported airstrikes by the Syrian government. © Shutterstock
Belgium also continues to promote humanitarian access. Minister for Development Cooperation Alexander De Croo will chair a Security Council meeting on the humanitarian corridors on 27 February 2020 in order to give more weight to the issue. The meeting will discuss a report by UN Secretary-General António Guterres on the humanitarian situation in Syria.
"Humanitarian aid makes the difference between the risk to one's own life and to be able flee in safety'', said Minister De Croo.
Sustainable political solution
But Belgium wants to go further than just alleviating the needs of civilians; it wants, first and foremost, a lasting solution to the conflict. That solution can only come about through a process that is supervised by the United Nations and together with all those involved. That is why Belgium supports the mandate of UN Special Envoy Geir Pedersen to prepare the way for a credible political solution. But as a member of the Security Council, our country also wants to contribute to this by seeking consensus between all the parties involved through UN mediation.
Belgium is also working to ensure that perpetrators of war crimes and violations of international law, in particular human rights, are identified and prosecuted. A lasting political solution must be based on reconciliation between the various population groups. The fight against impunity and criminal liability are crucial in this respect.
Together with the international community, our country remains determined to continue working towards an end to the tragedy in Syria.