Long term support for Syrian refugees and pressure to set in place a political transition under the UN auspices are expected to be the focus of the second EU and UN co-hosted Brussels Conference on Syria on April 24-25. Support for post war reconstruction, which featured high on the agenda of the first conference in 2017, is now seen in a “distant future”.
The European Commission doesn’t expect Syrian refugees to be able to return home anytime soon, a senior EU official said ahead the second Brussels conference on the civil war-torn country.
We can only advocate for the return of the refugees when they can do this in security and with dignity”, the official, who is engaged with the organisation of the Brussels forum, said.
For the moment we don’t see the conditions on the ground, nor a prospect for this to happen soon”, he added, underlining the situation in Syria is even deteriorating.
The EU and the UN are gathering political and civil society actors from across the region in Brussels to work with them, and in particularly with those hosting significant numbers of Syrian refugees, on planning how to deal with their accommodation in middle and long term.
Hosting communities’ capacities to cope are decreasing and there are more tensions between refuges and communities”, an EU official said, stressing the civil war is entering in its eighth year.
There are over 5 million registered refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan alone.
The EU is preparing to “press partners to deliver more mid- and long-term response plans” as the “situation in Syria is not improving”, he explained.
The EU itself is looking into how to increase delivery of assistance to refugee-hosting countries trying to be more flexible, exploring more financial means like soft loans or specific financial instruments like the Facility for refugees in Turkey, to help host communities.
What about the money?
The organisers are hoping the international and regional donors will pledge more humanitarian and economic assistance, exceeding last year’s figures of 5,6 billion euros for 2017 and €3,47 billion for 2018-2020.
Pledges will be an important indicator for the attention of the international community”, the European Commission’s official said.
With over 13 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and over 6 million displaced from their homes, the EU is eager to secure the money needed to run humanitarian activities.
In contrast to the first Brussels conference for Syria in April 2017, now there’ll be little talk about the post-war reconstruction effort.
The senior EU official explained a “genuine transition process” is precondition for Europe to start pumping in money for the rebuilding of Syria. He described this phase as a “distance future”, underlining the money pledged next week will be used only for humanitarian purposes and for building up the economic resilience in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan and others, where most of the Syrian refugees are sheltered.
Since the beginning of the war in 2011 the EU has delivered support of about 10,6 billion euro, including 80 million for Lebanon, 36 million for Jordan and €3 billion for Turkey under the deal for stopping migration, agreed in March 2016.
Money for the reconstruction of Syria from the EU will come only after a meaningful political transition process is underway under UN ausipces
…it will only come in the moment when the political transition, a political process would be firmly under way under UN auspices in Geneva”, the EU top diplomat Federica Mogherini said, speaking after the meeting of the EU foreign ministers on 16 April.
She called “unthinkable” and “unrealistic” expectations the money to be given to the current government to reconstruct Syria.
What about the messages?
The continuation of humanitarian assistance is one of the three goals of the conference is aiming at. The seond being named is keeping the interest and involvement of the international community to the protracted civil conflict and the third and the most ambitious one – to press for re-launching of the peace talks in Geneva.
Out of the terrible situation, there may be an opportunity”, one official said, stressing the EU is prepared to use its “convincing power” by providing space for political dialog and opportunity to “support and re-launch the political process in Geneva”.
Speaking several days ago, Mogherini said EU needs “the political process not only to start but to be serious”.
The UN envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura will be present in Brussels, together with the UN high commissioner Filippo Grandi and UN deputy Secretary General Mark Lowcock.
With neither Syrian government, nor the opposition receiving invitations for the Brussels conference, the question remains if there will be powerful enough presence from the main actors from both sides to discuss the reboot. Just days into the meeting Russia is yet to confirm who will lead its delegation and it is not yet certain if Iran’s foreign minister will arrive, while Turkey is sending a deputy prime-minister.
On the European side, apart from the EU institutions topped by the high representative for the foreign policy Federica Mogherini, 23 out of the 28 member states are sending delegations to the forum, 18 of them led by ministers. With the US new state secretary Mike Pompeo still not approved by Congress, he will not lead the US delegation.
The EU and the UN are expecting 85 delegations to arrive in Brussels, representing 30 states outside of the EU but also international organisations and NGOs. The first day of the conference will be devoted to a dialog with the NGOs, where four topics are expected to be discussed – protection of the refugees inside Syria, delivery of humanitarian assistance, access to education and economic and social development of the region. The ministers and the politicians will meet on the 25th, when the new financial pledge is also to be announced.
Media advisory for the Supporting The Future of Syria and the Region conference
Supporting the future of Syria and the Region conference: Press release
Financial tracking report: Supporting the future of Syria and the region
Factsheet: EU response to Syrian crisis
Speech by Federica Mogherini at the European Parliament on the situation in Syria
Remarks by Federica Mogherini following the adoption by the Foreign Affairs Council of conclusions on Syria
Council conclusions on Syria