25. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the new steps that can be taken to address the refugee crisis in Syria and Iraq; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 11579/18 asked on 08 Mar 2018)

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Simon Coveney): The situation in Syria continues to be one of utmost concern. The conflict, which is now in its seventh year, has cost an estimated half a million lives. Over 13 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria, including close to 3 million people trapped in besieged and hard-to-reach areas. Over 6 million people are displaced internally, and a further 5.5 million have fled to neighboring countries and the wider region. The recent increase in violence in Syria, in particular the vicious siege of Eastern Ghouta which has cost the lives of hundreds of civilians, underscores the extent to which an end to the violence is urgently needed in order to relieve the suffering of the Syrian people. Ireland and the EU support the UN-led Geneva peace process and the work of UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura. I was present at a UN Security Council briefing on Syria in New York in late February, where UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres appealed for an immediate suspension of violence in Eastern Ghouta to allow for the delivery of humanitarian aid, and for evacuations. I fully support those calls.

Since 2012, Ireland has contributed over €90 million to the humanitarian response to the Syria crisis, including €25 million in 2017 alone. In addition, the EU and its Member States have to date mobilised more than €10.4 billion for humanitarian, stabilisation and resilience assistance inside Syria and in neighbouring countries, making the EU the largest single donor to the effort. The EU will host another donors’ conference for Syria in April of this year. The EU is also supporting the Turkey Refugee Facility in response to the almost 3 million refugees being hosted in that country, and €3 billion has been committed to this by the EU between 2016 and 2019, with Ireland providing €22.9 million.

Under the terms of the Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP), administered by the Department of Justice, Ireland has also committed to accept up to 4,000 refugees from the region. To date, almost 2,000 people have already arrived.

In Iraq, the UN estimates that 11 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, as the country begins to recover from the atrocities committed by Da’esh. The current number of internally displaced persons requiring humanitarian assistance stands at almost 3.3 million, of which 1.6 million are living outside of camps in host communities. In addition, there are an estimated 240,000 Syrian refugees in Iraq. The EU is working to support the Iraqi government on stabilisation and reconciliation.

Since 2014, Ireland has provided over €8 million in humanitarian assistance to Iraq, including €2 million in 2017 for the UN Iraq Humanitarian Pooled Fund. Via our annual contributions to the EU budget, Ireland also supports the EU’s humanitarian response to the situation in Iraq, which amounts to €650 million since 2014.

The situations in both Syria and Iraq were discussed by EU Foreign Ministers at the Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Brussels in December. At the Foreign Affairs Council in January, Foreign Ministers adopted the new EU strategy for engagement with Iraq, and initiated a formal exchange on migration with Iraq. EU Foreign Ministers discussed the situation in Syria at their informal meeting in February of this year, and at the February Foreign Affairs Council.

Through the EU, Ireland has long advocated for and supported the development of durable solutions for refugees and internally displaced persons, and in tackling the root causes of displacement. Through our engagement with conflict-affected countries, refugee hosting countries and our EU counterparts, Ireland supports conflict resolution and development in Syria, Iraq and the wider region.