The hardship of the Syrians is the result of wrong policies

by Karin Leukefeld

When natural resources become weapons, life becomes a humanitarian crisis. Then, if the EU is the donor, any aid is sure to have a drawback. This was confirmed in the recent statements on Syria.

For this year’s Mother’s Day on 8 May, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Children (UNICEF) issued an appeal to draw attention to the situation of “children in Syria and neighbouring countries”. The point was not to put the mothers of these children in the spotlight, but for UNICEF to demand more money for the care of these children.
  The occasion and addressee of the statement was the 6th Brussels Conference for Support to Syria and the Region, held in Brussels on 9/10 May. UNICEF pointed out that it had so far received less than half of the funds needed for 2022 for children in Syria and neighbouring countries.
  “Millions of children” are living in “fear, hardship and uncertainty in Syria and neighbouring countries”, said the statement by UNICEF’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Adele Khodr. In Syria alone, 6.5 million children are in need of assistance. Another 5.8 million children “in Syria’s neighbouring countries, burdened by political instability and fragility” also need help because “their lives are marked by poverty and hardship”. Many families are struggling to cope with the rising prices of basic goods and food. “So that no Syrian child is left behind”, investments are needed to maintain the systems of “education, water and sanitation, health, nutrition and social protection”.
  The World Food Programme (WFP) also appealed to potential donor countries two days before the start of the EU-Syria conference, calling the war in Ukraine a “fresh hammer blow to Syria’s ability to feed itself”. The price of food has risen by 24 per cent in one month, the (financial) resources of the WFP are under pressure, the needs of the population are greater than what is available in terms of funding. Food rations have had to be reduced, and a 13 per cent reduction in food aid for north-western Syria (Idlib) is imminent.
  By the end of 2021, according to the WFP, around twelve million people in Syria – 55 per cent of Syria’s pre-war society – were considered poor and in need of food aid. But like UNICEF, the WFP complains of insufficient aid funds to continue its operations in and around Syria. According to the organisation, it will only have 27 per cent of the money it needs for its work by October 2022. In concrete terms, 595 million US dollars are missing. If there is no more money, the aid programmes will have to be further reduced, the WFP warned.
  As UNICEF and the WFP, numerous private, church, state and UN organisations registered their claims at the beginning of the Brussels Syria conference. Country and project reports were updated to make it clear that money was urgently needed from the EU pot and the coffers of EU member states to continue humanitarian aid to Syrians at the current level.
  All complained that the situation had worsened “as a result of the war in Ukraine”. Most also stressed the importance of their projects in the north-west of Syria – meaning Idlib – and that cross-border aid deliveries from Turkey to this area must be maintained.
  On Tuesday – the second day of the EU-Syria conference – the participating states put their money promises on the table. Germany generously offered to pay 1.05 billion euros. The money is to be used over several years “to improve the prospects of people in Syria and neighbouring countries severely affected by the Syrian war, which have taken in millions of refugees”, according to a statement from Berlin. 623 million euros of the sum will come from the budget of the Ministry for Development and Economic Cooperation (BMZ). The “critical need” of Syrians is “further exacerbated by rising wheat prices as a result of the war in the granary Ukraine”, announced the responsible Minister Svenja Schulze.
  Josep Borrell, EU Commissioner for Foreign Affairs, promised almost 1.6 billion euros from the EU pot for 2022. By way of comparison: for the care of refugees from Ukraine – this conflict is currently lasting eight weeks – the EU Commission made 3.5 billion euros available to EU member states, according to its own figures.

EU: Do not abandon the Syrians

The EU Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič, said ahead of the Brussels conference that the EU would “not abandon” the Syrian people. But above all, “unhindered access to humanitarian aid for all those in need must be made possible in a timely manner”, he added.
  In fact, the EU Commissioner did not mean “unhindered access for humanitarian aid”, which should come unhindered from all sides, i.e. also from Syria. Rather, he was talking about unhindered “cross-border aid deliveries”, which are brought from Turkey exclusively to Idlib, where they are supposed to help internally displaced persons. Idlib, as already described, is controlled by al-Qaida-affiliated jihadists. From Idlib, the aid then continues – unhindered – to the jihadist-supported areas in the north-east of Aleppo.
  De facto, these aid deliveries are controlled by a “redemption government” in Idlib, which is under the control of the al-Qaida-affiliated organisation Hay’at Tahrir ash-Sham (HTS). Aid deliveries, which according to UN Security Council Resolution 2585 should also be brought across the frontline – i.e. from Syria – to Idlib and the north-east of Aleppo, are not supported by the EU and the USA despite the UN Security Council Resolution.
  EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi blamed “Russian aggression against Ukraine” for the worsening of the humanitarian crisis in Syria and the region. He said the EU Commission had quickly allocated 225 million euros to its Food and Resilience Facility initiative and had developed an “economic and investment plan” to support “the socio-economic recovery and stabilisation of the region in the long term”. The term “resilience facility” means “financial ability to adapt to adverse conditions”.
  The EU says it will “activate all instruments” to help the Syrian people eventually reach a “negotiated political settlement and establish the conditions for a better future for all Syrians”, a statement on the 6th EU Donors’ Conference said.
  The question, however, is why a sixth EU donor conference already has to take place when the EU is so good-willed to do everything to help the Syrians. Since 2011, the EU and member states have pumped 27.4 billion euros into humanitarian aid for Syria and the region. Why are the living conditions in the region still getting worse?

The misery in Syria is the result of wrong policies

Western and European governments and think tanks regard Syria as a “failed state”. The consequences of war and destruction and a mass exodus are a heavy burden on the country. But Syria is also being prevented from rebuilding the country on its own.
  An important prerequisite would be the withdrawal of foreign troops and combat from the resource-rich areas of the country. Syria would have to define its borders in coordination with neighbouring sovereignty. The economic sanctions imposed unilaterally by the EU and the USA, which also affect neighbouring countries and non-Syrian companies, should be lifted. Syrians, who wish to do so, should be supported by the UN when returning to their homes. The EU and the USA refuse to do this and are deliberately prolonging the humanitarian crisis in Syria as well as the hardship and lack of prospects for refugees in the neighbouring countries. The crisis situation is being perpetuated in order to keep the government in Damascus and its allies Russia and Iran under pressure.

When natural resources become a weapon, life becomes a humanitarian crisis

When the war in Syria began in 2011, the country was debt-free. No one had gone hungry, and the tourism business had boomed. Syria’s relations with the neighbouring countries of Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey were characterised by economic and political cooperation, which had benefited everyone. The relations with European states had been marked by numerous agreements and exchange programmes.
  Since the beginning of the war, the situation has deteriorated continuously. The consequences of the war and the hostile isolationist policy of the EU and the USA contribute to the erosion of the economic and social conditions in Syrian society. A sign of this is the disappearance of a stabilising middle class. Black market trade and corruption are on the rise.
  An important reason for the difficult situation is that Syria is denied access to its natural resources. The water, which is controlled both by Turkey – on the upper reaches of the Euphrates – and by Israel – on the occupied and annexed Syrian Golan Heights, is lacking. There is a lack of electricity for the power pumps to bring water from underground water reservoirs and wells to irrigate the fields, orchards and olive groves. Electricity has become scarce in Syria, because armed groups have destroyed the country’s electricity supply infrastructure. Electricity became also scarce, because Syria no longer has access to its oil and gas resources in the north-east of the country, which is controlled by US troops and local actors. Syria can also no longer dispose the cotton in the Euphrates valley, the wheat in Al-Hasakah or the olive trees in Afrin. The important resources of the country are occupied and controlled by opponents of the government, which harms all Syrians. In the speeches at the 6th EU-Syria Conference this is not mentioned.

Criticism from Moscow

The Russian Federation – which, for the first time, was not invited to Brussels – criticised the conference as worthless if neither the Syrian nor the Russian government were invited to participate.
  They did not see any real efforts to solve Syria’s urgent humanitarian problems in Syria, Moscow said. Humanitarian aid should be provided in accordance with internationally recognised principles and should not be politicised.
  The Brussels conferences, on the other hand, “are sinking deeper and deeper into the reckless politicisation of humanitarian issues,” was the statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry. The West is doing its best to prevent Syrian refugees from returning to their homeland. The difficult situation in which the (regional) receiving countries find themselves are going unnoticed by the EU. Washington and Brussels were suffocating the Syrian people with illegal unilateral sanctions, the Syrian daily newspaper “Al-Watan” is citing the statement from Moscow. The USA held Syrian territory in the region of Jazira (north-east Syria) and Al-Tanf and plundered Syria’s national resources.
  The US and the Europeans hindered the implementation of projects for a first phase of reconstruction in Syria, as envisaged in UN Security Council Resolution 2885. Instead, political preconditions, including the cross-border assistance (from Turkey), would undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria.

Three “No’s” against Syria

Borrell confirmed in an interview with the Saudi Arabian daily newspaper “Asharq Al-Awsat”, which is also published in English, that the EU would not change its three “red lines” against Syria. It would not contribute to reconstruction of the country, it would not lift the sanctions and not establish diplomatic relations with Damascus, “as long as there is no sustainable political change that complies with UN Security Council Resolution 2254”. as Borrell confirmed. Borrell continued that Russia had not been invited to the EU donor conference. The EU only invites “partners who are genuinely interested in contributing to the peace in the world and in helping the victims of the conflict,” the EU foreign affairs representative said. “With its aggression against Ukraine Russia has shown that it does not share this interest.”
  The spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Jens Loerke, however, said that the UN would not participate at the “important annual event” in Brussels. The EU had taken the decision not to invite the Russian Federation, he said. In response to the enquiries from journalists, Loerke declined to comment on the EU’s decision. However, he stated that the Russian Federation, as a “member of the UN and a permanent member of the UN Security Council [...] was an important interlocutor”.  •

(Translation Current Concerns)

ef. Independent journalist Karin Leukefeld has been reporting from the Extended Middle East for daily and weekly journals as well as German state sponsored radio programmes since the year 2000. Since the beginning of the war in 2011 she moves back and forth between Damasucs, Beirut, other places in the Arab world and her hometown Bonn. She has published several books, such as “Syrien zwischen Schatten und Licht – Geschichte und Geschichten von 1916-2016. Menschen erzählen von ihrem zerrissenen Land” (Syria Between Light and Shadow – History and Stories 1916–2016. People Narrate about their War-torn Country.) (2016, Rotpunkt edition Zurich); “Flächenbrand Syrien, Irak, die Arabische Welt und der Islamische Staat” (Surface Fire Syria, Iraq, the Arab World and the Islamic State.) (2015, 3rd edition 2017, PapyRossa edition, Cologne). Her new book will be released soon: “Im Auge des Orkans: Syrien, der Nahe Osten und die Entstehung einer neuen Weltordnung” (In the Eye of the Hurricane: Syria, the Middle East and the Rise of a New World Order).

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