Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres' remarks to the opening plenary session of the Supporting Syria and the Region Conference, in Brussels today:
I thank the High Representative, Federica Mogherini, for hosting us in Brussels today, and our fellow co-chairs from Germany, Kuwait, Norway, Qatar and the United Kingdom for organizing this important conference in support of Syria and the region. This is the fifth conference of its kind, and I thank Kuwait and the United Kingdom for successfully hosting its predecessors.
I am pleased to see so many Member States, international organizations and non-governmental organizations are sending a message of solidarity to the people of Syria, and to all those impacted by the conflict: We stand with you, united and committed to ending this crisis, and relieving the suffering of so many innocent people. That means a ceasefire — meaning that the Astana effort has to deliver and we must all support it.
But, above all, as it was said, it means a political solution, through negotiations among the Syrians, with real regional and international support. The United Nations is leading that effort. The Geneva talks are under way, and going into substance, based on Security Council resolution 2254 (2015) and the Geneva communiqués. This fragile but serious effort needs everyone’s united support.
I appeal to the parties to the conflict and those with influence over them to put aside their differences and to understand that this war is first of all an immense tragedy for the Syrian people. But, it is having a detrimental and destabilizing effect on the entire region. And it is providing a focus that is feeding the new threat of global terrorism.
Nobody is winning this war. Everybody is losing. It poses a danger to us all. The fight against terrorism is vital, but any successes will be ephemeral without a political solution to the crisis in Syria.
Crimes and abuses against civilians have become a hallmark of this conflict, as hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost, millions of families displaced and communities across the country destroyed. Attacks on civilians and the use of internationally banned weapons are an affront to our common humanity. The United Nations has consistently highlighted the need for accountability.
Today, as the conflict lines shift, there may have been a perception that the situation has eased. This is completely false. Recent months have been some of the worst yet. Hundreds of civilians have been killed and injured as fighting goes on.
Hundreds of thousands of people are beyond the reach of humanitarian agencies, while many more are besieged under inhumane conditions. War crimes and persistent violations of international humanitarian law remain a reality, as yesterday’s reports of use of chemical weapons reminded us again.
Millions of people rely on sporadic humanitarian convoys that are regularly delayed by administrative restrictions and insecurity. I strongly appeal to all parties to provide guaranteed and unhindered access for life-saving aid to people in need wherever they are.
Given the horrors in Syria, South Sudan and too many other places, we have to reaffirm our collective commitment to international humanitarian law not only in words, but in deeds.
Syrians have been at the forefront of the humanitarian response, providing assistance and refuge to their compatriots at great personal risk. I have no doubt that when the conflict ends and peace is restored, Syrians will rise again to work for the long-term recovery and reconstruction of their country. The United Nations stands ready to mobilize all its capacities for that purpose and this conference is also very important for that.
While we wait for that day, we must make sure that the Syrian people we have failed so badly are not subjected to even greater suffering, because of our inaction on matters that are fully under our control.
This conference must represent a moment of truth, when the international community takes decisive steps to increase its support for the victims of the Syria conflict, and for the neighbouring countries that are providing a safe haven for millions of refugees.
Inside Syria, 4 out of every 5 people are in poverty; half in extreme poverty, unable to meet even basic food needs. One in three schools is out of use, preventing 1.75 million children from getting an education. There are 10-year-old Syrian children who have never been in a classroom.
Outside Syria, humanitarian aid is clearly insufficient for refugees in neighbouring countries. More than 90 per cent of refugees outside camps in Jordan are living below the Jordanian poverty line. Around half of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon are still out of school, despite enormous efforts by the Lebanese Government.
Behind these figures lies a gradual draining of hope and a turn towards despair that we must reverse. I pay tribute to the generosity of Syria’s neighbours who have shouldered so much of the responsibility for refugees. We must do more to build the resilience of host communities and to provide them with the solidarity they need.
But, we also must step up international budget, investment and infrastructure support to Jordan and Lebanon, particularly in the need to upgrade energy, water, education and health sectors.
The World Bank’s decision to provide concessional loans to middle-income countries hosting refugees is a step forward, but still far from meeting the dramatic needs in these countries. Iraq also urgently needs greater assistance in its efforts to achieve internal stabilization and reconciliation.
The Turkish Government announced last year that it had contributed $12 billion to help 2.7 million Syrian refugees. The international community has covered a small fraction of this sum.
But, while the funding situation is utterly insufficient, in the developed world we have seen borders closing and Governments reducing resettlement and relocation opportunities. Syrians are trapped between poverty and despair at home, and life on the margins of society outside their country, at the mercy of criminals and traffickers.
We must restore the integrity of the international refugee protection regime, so that it offers robust support to Syrians and others. We must share responsibility for Syrian refugees more equitably.
All States have the right to manage their borders responsibly and to protect the security of their citizens. But, they must do this in line with international refugee law, while avoiding discrimination of any kind.
The need for humanitarian aid and the protection of Syrian civilians has never been greater. The humanitarian appeal for a single crisis has never been higher. United Nations agencies and our partners are determined to reach everyone in need through all possible means.
I humbly salute all those surviving in bombed-out homes, in blacked-out communities and makeshift camps. I call for the immediate release of all those who have been arbitrarily detained. I pay tribute to those who are looking after injured and traumatized family members.
The most difficult times call for the greatest efforts. We will do everything possible to find a way through this tragic impasse.