Ireland respected for Syrian aid work, foreign affairs committee told

Ireland is respected globally for the work and aid provided to the Syrian refugee crisis, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

The Foreign Affairs Committee discussed the humanitarian situation in Syria with representatives from charities Concern, Trocaire and Goal today, who say there is much work still to be done.

The committee heard that there is currently “no sign of peace although the regime has regained control” and that “normality inside Syria is barely tolerable with thousands of people displaced and the conditions are appalling”, said Brid Kennedy from Concern.

When asked by Sinn Féin’s Sean Crowe what more Ireland could do, being a small country with relative influence on large international countries like Russia and the US, the NGO representatives were keen to point out Ireland’s global standing.

“This is Ireland’s largest ever single aid support project, we are ranked top 20 in the world, that puts us in a very strong leadership position to advocate for more funding annually, to allow humanitarian members to be with people over a substantial period of time,” said Goal’s Mary Van Lieshout.

“We have punched above our weight and have the respect globally,” added Ms Kennedy.

The committee also heard from Syrian refugee and Goal representative Mustafa Al Manla, a former English teacher, who left his home country in 2012.

“The majority of Syrians lost their homes and land, and have lived in camps and in tents for more than nine years with no livelihood opportunities,” he said.

“These are teachers, doctors, farmers, and nurses.

“My main role is emergency programme co-ordinator in northern Syria, I’ve been in this role for more than three years.

“The infrastructure of that area has been destroyed, people have lost their homes, jobs and schools, lost lives and livelihoods.

“I am working in a war zone every day, I see the worry they carry every day.

“Children every day hear bombs and see airstrikes, this is not normal.

“It’s important to leave you with the message that children are the next generation, this our responsibility to take care of them.”

Niall O Keefe, from Trocaire, laid out a number of priorities for action in Syria.

“Any discussion on return of refugees must be voluntarily, with dignity and safety, Ireland and the EU should ensure these are paramount,” Mr O Keefe said.

“We should ensure multi-annual humanitarian funding and encourage an emphasis on the UN-backed peace process.

“There must also be accountability for war crimes and human rights violations, without these difficult to see the 12 million people displaced having sufficient assurances to come home.”

The committee also heard that Ireland had signed up to take 4,000 refugees and has currently taken less than 2,000.

The committee say they will write to the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and relay the concerns of the charities.

- Press Association

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