EU promises unshakable support for Syria at Brussels conference

Representatives say EU won't work with regime as aid groups appeal for funds

A 3D drawing by a Syrian girl, showing scenes of conflict, is pictured ahead of an international peace and donor conference for Syria, outside European Union institutions in Brussels, Belgium March 12, 2019.  REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
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The third Brussels Conference on Supporting the future of Syria and the region began on Tuesday amid further assurances that the EU will demand a political settlement.

“We are not going to work with the Syrian regime and this is a very powerful message that I think will come out of this conference,” Helga Schmid, Secretary General of the European external action service, said at the opening ceremony.

“We as the EU have not and will not let you down.”

About 800 participants gathered to take part in the Days of Dialogue, a two-day event bringing together representatives of more than 300 institutions before the EU delegations’ pledge to support the Syrian population on Thursday.

Representatives of Syrian society addressed EU and UN officials at the European Parliament to tell their stories and express their yearning for stability, social justice and return.

Isra Al Hassan, a young Syrian woman who fled her country when the conflict erupted in 2011, said she hoped “the voices of us Syrian refugees in Lebanon will be heard” at the conference.

Mourad Wahba, director for Arab states at the UN Development Programme, told Syrian society representatives that “your voices deserve to be heard".

“We need your guidance, we need your support and we need your voice,” Mr Wahba said.

The conclusions and recommendations that will emerge from the Days of Dialogue will be presented to delegations on Thursday.

Those attending will contribute their ideas through an online crowdsourcing tool that collects answers to quesrions in real time.

Oxfam and the Danish Refugee Council on Tuesday called for governments and other donors to provide more funding to help Syrians recover.

The international agencies also urged the Syrian government to allow humanitarian organisations access to those in need of help throughout the country.

“While many people are focusing on the apparent end of the conflict and what comes next, what should matter most is the extent of the humanitarian need still present in the country,” said Arnaud Quemin, Syrian director of Mercy Corps.

“Two out of three Syrians depend on humanitarian assistance, including the absolute basics such as food, access to clean water, proper shelter and health care.”

Ms Schmid said the EU would increase its pledges for humanitarian, stabilisation and development programmes in Syria and neighbouring countries.

At the first conference in 2017, international donors pledged $6 billion, compared with last year's $4.4bn, failing to meet UN expectations of $9bn.

On Tuesday, digital entrepreneurs were also invited to display their innovations on Tuesday morning as part of the “Syria Digital Lab” initiative.

Among them was Rama Chakaki, who in 2016 launched edSeed, a storytelling, campaigning and crowdfunding platform that brings stories of youth from conflict zones and encourages donors to fund their education.

Also there was Hoda Salman, one of the leaders behind, a programme to help social entrepreneurs in Lebanon.

Mapping Syria, an initiative founded by Tameem Emam that uses satellite images to enable Syrians to check on the status of their properties, was praised by Hilde Hardeman, head of services at the European Commission.

“Thank you Tameem Emam for what you are doing, mapping for the benefit of Syrians,” Ms Hardeman tweeted.