‘Cynicism about Syria must not paralyse our efforts’

The Netherlands is underscoring the importance of an effective opposition in bringing about change in Syria. There can be no trade-off between reconstruction and transitioning to the next phase. ‘We’re talking about human lives, not about war dividend,’ said foreign minister Bert Koenders. On Wednesday he and foreign trade and development minister Lilianne Ploumen took part in an international conference in Brussels on the future of Syria and the surrounding region.

The war in Syria has been raging for over six years now, and the situation is desperate. There is a serious shortage of food, shelter, healthcare and other essentials. The Dutch government is therefore making an extra €4 million available to help Syrians via the Red Cross. Since 2011, the Netherlands has given around €376 million for humanitarian aid in the Syrian region. The conference, which was attended by EU member states and other relevant countries, was a follow-up to last year’s meeting in London.

According to Mr Koenders there is a clear feeling of powerlessness among the international community, and he is urging countries to break this deadlock. ‘Cynicism must not paralyse our efforts,’ said the minister. ‘Today the UN Security Council must adopt a resolution condemning the attack in Idlib, which is essentially a war crime. Immediate and unfettered access for the OPCW is crucial.’

Mr Koenders also emphasised that the opposition needs to be given a role in shaping Syria’s transition to the next phase. He also believes it is essential to draw up a plan for effective governance in cities like Raqqa (Syria) and Mosul (Iraq) following their liberation from ISIS. ‘Without a legitimate government,’ he said, ‘these places cannot be rebuilt.’

As long as there is no peace and the Syrian population continues to suffer, the Netherlands will continue to provide humanitarian aid. ‘The situation of millions of Syrians remains dire,’ said Ms Ploumen. ‘And it is still difficult to get aid and aid workers into the country and guarantee their safety. However, progress is being made, for example in Lebanon, where 200,000 Syrian refugees can now attend school, or in Jordan, where a UNICEF programme is allowing many children to catch up on lost schooling. In addition, the Jordanian government has issued 45,000 work permits. In Turkey, we have helped set up a project to train refugees for jobs at Dutch companies in the country.’

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