The Netherlands helps give heroes of Aleppo a voice in New York

On Thursday the Netherlands and Italy jointly hosted a special meeting on Syria in New York. Speakers came from the besieged city of Aleppo, where they are doing extraordinary work.

One is the head of a group of emergency workers known as the ‘White Helmets’. The group was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Other speakers included a doctor, a citizen journalist and a human rights activist. Each told their story during the meeting that took place at the offices of the Dutch Permanent Representation to the UN.

‘Every day, these people risk their lives in one of the world’s most dangerous places. They are absolute heroes,’ said foreign minister Bert Koenders. ‘It is vital that when we as politicians talk about Syria, we include the Syrian people. Their voices must be heard.’ Mr Koenders is in New York for the UN General Assembly.

The speakers expressed their concerns about the situation in their country and the continued violence there, including the bombing of a UN humanitarian aid convoy earlier this week. Mr Koenders strongly condemned the attack and supports the UN’s call for an independent investigation.

US Secretary of State John Kerry was also in attendance. He made a special point of coming by, as a show of support for the Syrian people. Together with Mr Koenders, he talked with the speakers about their experiences and expectations. Participants were also given the chance to see Aleppo for themselves, with the help of virtual reality glasses.

Syria was on the agenda of many of the meetings held in New York this week. The Netherlands and Italy wanted to offer a platform for Syrians to tell their stories. ‘The General Assembly is taking place at a crucial time for Syria,’ Mr Koenders commented. ‘And Syria has been high on the agenda this week.’  

On Thursday, all the ministers who are members of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), including Mr Koenders, came together for the second time to discuss a political solution for the conflict in more detail. ‘I want to personally ensure that the international community gets the chance to hear critical opinions from the Syrian people as well,’ remarked the minister.

During the ISSG meeting, chaired by the US Secretary of State and the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Koenders called for all aircraft to be grounded, initially for a week, in order to build mutual trust. He and his French counterpart, Jean-Marc Ayrault, also called for a verification mechanism to monitor the truce in the country.