Current Concerns: How are you getting a complete picture of the situation of refugees in and around Syria?
Manuel Bessler: For me as the Delegate of Swiss Humanitarian Aid it is crucial to get a first-hand picture of the situation. Last year I visited Jordan and Lebanon and in three weeks I will travel again to Lebanon and additionally to Turkey in order to assess the situation with my own eyes. This is also about the efficiency and efficacy of our programs and about deciding what should be done differently, what in a new or better way.
What can be generally said with regard to the situation of the refugees in the Syria conflict who are depending on humanitarian aid?
The humanitarian needs are gigantic. We are facing 3.8 million refugees (UNHCR, January 2015), that is nearly half the Swiss population. There are 7.6 million internal refugees, i.e. people who have been displaced within Syria, e.g. from Aleppo, Idlib, Homs, etc.. Their primary need is to find shelter. The people need safety. These are elementary needs: a roof over their heads, a warm meal, medical aid, in winter sufficient protection against the cold. It is about survival, indeed.
Is the SDC also active in Syria itself our mainly in the countries which have to cope with the refugee issue?
The beginning of the Syria conflict, that is some four years ago, the Swiss Humanitarian Aid has used 128 million Swiss Francs to relieve the suffering. Some 50% of our aid went to Syria itself. The other 50% were spent in the surrounding countries, that is, in countries that have above all accommodated the refugees.
How is the situation in Syria itself?
It is such that more than half of the Syrians are depending on humanitarian aid. They have either left the country as refugees or they are internal refugees within Syria. Three out of four persons who still live in their homes are living on the breadline. The needs are huge and rising.
How is this to go on?
These challenges will further mount without a political solution of the conflict. This is what alarms and worries us with respect to humanitarian aid. We do not see any solution; there is no indication that there is a solution under way.
Is there any chance for Switzerland, beyond humanitarian aid, to work as arbiter towards a solution of the conflict, like is has successfully done in the Ukrainian crisis, several times?
Yes, definitely. Humanitarian aid is easing the suffering, but it does not provide a political solution. There are no humanitarian solutions for political conflicts. That means, a solution has to be induced politically. We are in contact with Syria. We have a so-called trilateral dialogue between Switzerland, Syria and Iran. This is mainly about working out conditions for the humanitarian aid, but we are also trying to assuage the situation. There can be no political solution as long as the parties are not willing to sit down together and see an advantage in a negotiated solution. And it still looks as if various parties think they can achieve their goals by military means and see no incentive to embark on a compromise or at least on negotiations.
At what political level are these trilateral talks taking place?
As I mentioned, this is a humanitarian dialogue. I am representing Switzerland; for the Iranian and the Syrian side we have the deputy foreign secretaries. We have already met four times. The talks are mainly focussed on the working conditions of the humanitarian actors which are trying to achieve improvements for the situation of the affected people.
Thank you very much for the interview, Ambassador Bessler. •
(Interview Thomas Kaiser)
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