Nearly ten years of war: Europe must continue to support the Syrian people: Op-ed
The conflict in Syria is entering its tenth year. Ten years of war, suffering and grief. And it’s still not over. Syrians continue to live in fear and despair, their future held hostage. While the war forced half the population to flee their homes in the past decade, those who stayed behind are facing an unprecedented economic crisis and the threat of the Coronavirus.
At the fourth Brussels Conference on “Supporting the future of Syria and the region” on 29 and 30 June, more than 80 countries, regional and international organizations and UN agencies will sit around a virtual roundtable to address all the key dimensions of the Syrian crisis: political, humanitarian, financial, and regional. We will reaffirm our strong support to the UN efforts for a political solution to the conflict and to the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 2254. A political solution, reached through a U.N.-mediated, inclusive, Syrian-led and Syrian-owned dialogue, is the only way of achieving sustainable peace in Syria. The alternative is ever more misery caused by the obstinate determination of the long-discredited regime.
This year, on top of being the worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War, Syria is close to economic collapse. The regime’s mismanagement of the economy, widespread corruption, the financial crisis in neighboring Lebanon and the Coronavirus pandemic have brought the country’s economy to its knees. The situation is dire. Syria faces its highest inflation rate ever, alongside a record devaluation of its national currency. Eight in ten Syrians reportedly live in poverty and even top-tier salary earners are left with little real purchasing power. Basic goods are becoming scarce; food and medicine are starting to become unaffordable to ordinary people.
Syrians want the same things as every person and family anywhere else in the world: personal security, jobs and a future for their children. In other words, they need prospects for the future. The EU and its Member States have been supporting Syrians everywhere since the start of the conflict. Over €20 billion have been provided in humanitarian, stabilization and resilience assistance since 2011 - for Syrians in Syria and in support of the neighboring countries.
We are very grateful for the solidarity shown by Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey in particular. They are looking after more than 5.6 million Syrian refugees. These countries are struggling with complex domestic situations; they continue to need assistance to meet the growing needs of both the refugees and their own people. The EU is also helping them. Our assistance in response to the Syrian crisis does not only benefit Syrian refugees but also the Lebanese, Jordanian and Turkish people, to create job opportunities, infrastructure including schools, as well as better health and water services.
The EU Regional Trust Fund (MADAD) has helped communities in Lebanon and Jordan by providing basic income, access to health services and to education and much more, ensuring that Syrian refugees and local hosts alike have a foundation to build a better future. In Turkey, the EU supports an emergency social safety net, the access of Syrian refugees to high-quality Turkish health services, and school enrolment.
In Syria itself, we have been doing what we can to foster livelihoods, support communities and stimulate the very basics of economic life.
Since 2011, the EU put in place sanctions in response to the actions of the regime and its supporters. The goal of these measures is to put pressure on the Syrian regime to halt repression and negotiate a lasting political settlement of the Syrian crisis in line with UNSC Resolution 2254, under UN auspices.
These sanctions target designated people and entities, not the population. They do not prevent the delivery of humanitarian aid or prohibit the export of food, medicine or medical equipment.
Today, we want to tell the Syrian people and the people of the countries hosting the refugees that we know what they have been going through, that we care and that we will continue to stand by them.
We know that the Syrian refugees’ dearest dream is to go back home. We are ready to help make this happen once the conditions are in place. But, to what home? It is not realistic to expect refugees to return to the risk of being arrested, tortured or forced to fight a war they wanted to escape. Their security of life and of property needs to be guaranteed. And we know that the stability necessary for the reconciliation and reconstruction of Syria will only come once the regime renounces brutality and embarks on a process of genuine political dialogue, backed with tangible changes and moves that will heal Syria's wounds.
That was, is and remains our goal. Our motto is that the Syrian people must decide the future of Syria. As EU, we will stand by them in doing so.
* Josep Borrell is the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy