Bert Koenders: only a solution to the Syria conflict can stem flow of refugees

Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders believes the European Union must do everything in its power, in consultation with Lebanon and other countries in the region, to find a solution to the conflict in Syria. ‘Only then can we really bring the refugee crisis to an end,’ he said during a visit to Lebanon on Tuesday.

‘It’s not merely a question of border controls and quotas,’ Mr Koenders emphasised. ‘If the war in Syria doesn’t come to an end, people will keep coming. The Netherlands will keep underlining this fact.’ The conflict in Syria has prompted almost 1.2 million Syrians to flee to neighbouring Lebanon. ‘The EU and its member states need to talk to the Lebanese about tackling the problems, too, because they are familiar with both the issues and the region,’ Mr Koenders said.

The minister visited Haouch el Harime refugee camp near the Syrian border today to see the situation for himself. ‘You see and hear from those on the ground that the capacity and standard of care for refugees is under tremendous pressure,’ he said. ‘The Netherlands wants to help improve the situation, not only for the refugees but also for their Lebanese host communities. I’m very impressed by the work of the Lebanese and of the aid organisations who are trying to ease people’s suffering.’

Mr Koenders believes it is important that refugees can stay near to their country of origin and return as soon as possible. ‘But Lebanon also deserves all the support we can give to ensure it can continue to help these people and improve conditions for them, without its own population suffering too. We must also call upon the Gulf states and other countries to take in refugees,’ he said.

The minister announced on Monday evening in Beirut that the Netherlands was donating €25 million for emergency aid to Syrian refugees in Lebanon. This is part of the €110 million that the Dutch government recently made available to help people who are suffering as a result of the war in Syria.