238. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on steps the EU or UN can take to protect persons who are refugees from war zones; if safe areas can be established for international aid under the protection of the military; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 18650/17 asked on 12 Apr 2017)

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Joe McHugh): The provision of effective humanitarian assistance is a key foreign policy priority for the Government. Ireland provided over €190 million in humanitarian funding in 2016 to assist people affected by crisis and conflict around the world, including refugees from war zones. In addition, Ireland also contributes to the European Commission’s humanitarian action outside the EU, which has an annual budget of some €1 billion.

The ability to deliver international aid to vulnerable populations according to their need is critical. Ireland works at EU and UN level to advocate for increased humanitarian access, more effective means of providing assistance, and respect for international humanitarian law. In 2016, we provided €7 million in core funding to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as well as €4.8 million in humanitarian funding for its work in South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Chad.

In addition, the International Committee of the Red Cross, to which we provided €14 million in 2016, reminds authorities and others of their legal obligations under international humanitarian law as part of their mission to protect and assist the victims of war.

The ongoing crises in the Middle East and Africa illustrate clearly the need for the UN, in particular, to enhance its capacity to respond more effectively to conflict and the associated need for humanitarian protection. Providing safe areas within conflict zones is extremely difficult, especially where civilian protection is not prioritised. Safe areas require UN mandates and robustly equipped peacekeeping personnel. On my recent visit to Jordan and Lebanon, I witnessed for myself the important role played by UNIFL in ensuring the safety and protection of those affected by conflict, through its UN-mandated peacekeeping mission.

The blockages at the Security Council in recent years have prevented the international community from acting together in a way that would allow civilians in conflict zones to be afforded greater protection. Ireland advocates strongly for reforms to the membership and working methods of the Security Council, and we will continue to do so to ensure that it is equipped to respond to the challenges arising from conflict situations worldwide.