The Netherlands joins special UN group for humanitarian aid to Syria

The Netherlands has joined the UN’s high-level group devoted to helping the suffering people of Syria. Today in Rome, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Lilianne Ploumen attended a special meeting on this subject.

‘The Netherlands is more than just a valued aid donor to the people of Syria who are suffering so greatly in this war,’ said the minister. ‘We can also try to help improve the humanitarian situation in different ways.’

Ms Ploumen went on to point out that the Netherlands can use its contacts with certain Syrian opposition groups to ensure that more emergency aid reaches the starving population. One example of this is a plan to open a ‘humanitarian corridor’ in Homs, which was formulated by local religious, military and civilian leaders. This proposal was submitted to Marcel Kurpershoek, the Netherlands’ special envoy to Syria.

The first step provided for under the corridor plan is the agreement of a ceasefire. This will pave the way for the arrival of a large aid transport which the warring factions will allow to do its work. For this to succeed, the Syrian authorities will have to provide a guarantee; once this has been obtained, the UN and the International Red Cross could act as monitors. In Rome the Netherlands shared this proposal with the UN and a number of other countries.

‘It is simply tragic that the aid is there to be delivered, but unable to reach Homs or other cities because of the fighting,’ the minister said. ‘This is largely due to the Syrian government, but certain extremist opposition groups also bear a share of the blame.’

The plan for the humanitarian corridor could dovetail with the intensive negotiations that are currently taking place between the Syrian government and various opposition groups in Homs. The UN has emphasised that the humanitarian crisis is not confined to Homs and the Palestinian Yarmouk Camp near Damascus, which have received so much attention. There are many other areas where beleaguered civilians find themselves hemmed in by both the regime and opposition groups.

In Rome Ms Ploumen pressed for the continued involvement of Syrian women’s organisations in the pursuit of humanitarian solutions. The Netherlands recently organised a conference with this aim. Another issue the minister raised is support for a Belgian-Spanish initiative to demilitarise hospitals and schools, so the wounded and sick can be safely treated and children can go to school.

In Rome ministers and representatives from over 20 European and Arab countries sat down at the negotiating table, together with the US, Canada and Russia. The meeting was chaired by Valerie Amos, under-secretary-general and emergency relief coordinator of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. On 13 February she will issue a report on the humanitarian situation in Syria and the extent to which emergency aid is being admitted.