On 29 and 30 March, the European Union will virtually host the fifth Brussels Conference on ‘Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region'. On the 10th anniversary of the Syrian uprising, the situation in the country and the region remains highly critical, as the conflict still continues. The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and the deterioration of the neighbouring economies over the last year further exacerbate the dire humanitarian situation inside Syria and the conditions for Syrian refugees.
The aim of the Brussels Conferences is to further rally the international community behind UN-led efforts to achieve a lasting political solution to the Syria crisis in line with UN Security Council resolution 2254 and to mobilise the necessary financial assistance for Syrians and their host communities in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, among others. On 29 March, the Day of Dialogue will allow to pursue dialogue between civil society, refugee-hosting countries, the EU and the UN. Other Syria-related conference side events will take place the week before. The Ministerial Conference will take place on 30 March. More information on the Conference is available in the press release.
Johansson criticizes Danish government’s treatment of Syrian refugees
Asked about the decision of the Danish government to return refugees to Syria, Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said that nobody should be forced to return to Syria.
Johansson said that when she heard that the Danish authorities were proposing to do this she immediately reached out to the Danish minister responsible for the proposal. Johansson suggested listening to the advice of the UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) and EASO (European Asylum and Support Office) on the situation in Syria and their view that no one should be forced to return.
The commissioner was reassured in her talks with the Danish minister that there would be no forced returns, but she raised concerns that Syrian refugees could lose access to the job market and education, specifically language learning. Denmark has targeted those refugees who are from Damascus and Rif Damascus, which their authorities deem to be “safe”.
Denmark has opted out of the European Union’s asylum acquis and is not obliged to follow the EU’s rules in this area.
Israel retaliates after Syrian missile lands near nuclear reactor
A Syrian surface-to-air missile exploded in southern Israel on Thursday (22 April), the Israeli military said, in an incident that triggered warning sirens in an area near the secretive Dimona nuclear reactor.
There were no immediate reports of any injuries or damage in Israel.
The military said that in response to the launch, it attacked several missile batteries in Syria, including the one that fired the projectile that struck its territory.
Syria's state news agency said Syrian air defences intercepted the Israeli attack that targeted areas in the Damascus suburbs.
"Air defences intercepted the rockets and downed most of them," the agency said.
However, four soldiers were injured in the attack and some material damage took place, it said.
A Syrian military defector said the Israeli strikes targeted locations near the town of Dumair, some 40 km northeast of Damascus, where Iranian-backed militias have a presence. It is an area that Israel has hit repeatedly in past attacks
An Israeli military spokesman said the Syrian missile had been fired at Israeli aircraft during an earlier strike and had overflown its target and reached the Dimona area.
The errant Syrian missile was an SA-5, one of several fired at Israeli air force planes, according to the spokesman. It did not hit the reactor, landing some 30km (19 miles) away, he added.
A Reuters reporter about 90 km (56 miles) north of Dimona heard the sound of an explosion minutes before the military tweeted that sirens had gone off in the region.
Israeli media have said for weeks that air defences around the Dimona reactor and the Red Sea port Eilat were being beefed up in anticipation of a possible long-range missile or drone attack by Iranian-backed forces - perhaps from as far away as Yemen.
Tensions are high between Israel and Iran over Tehran's nuclear programme and a recent surge in sabotage attacks, some of which the arch-foes have blamed on each other.
Early on Thursday, the Saudi-led coalition battling Yemen’s Houthis intercepted a drone attack by the Iran-aligned movement on the southern Saudi city of Khamis Mushait, state media reported.
Syrian crisis: €5.3 billion mobilized by donors for 2021 and beyond at 5th Brussels Conference
At the fifth Brussels Conference on 'Supporting the future of Syria and the Region' co-chaired by the European Union and the United Nations, the international community pledged €5.3 billion for 2021 and beyondfor Syria and the neighbouring countries hosting the largest Syrian refugee population. Of this amount, €3.7bn was announced by the EU, with €1.12bn coming from the European Commission and €2.6n from EU member states. The EU as a whole remains the largest donor with €24.9bn of humanitarian, stabilization and resilience assistance collectively mobilized since the onset of the crisis in 2011 to address its consequences.
High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell said: "A decade after Syrians peacefully took to the streets asking for freedom, justice and economic perspectives, those demands are still unmet and the country is in chaos. The EU and its member states have been the largest provider of support to Syrians throughout the past ten years and continue to believe that it is for Syrians to decide on the future of their country. A future in which all Syrians will feel safe, free and have a dignified life. With the Brussels conference, the EU has brought together once again the international community to reaffirm our political and financial support to Syrians and the neighbouring countries and to a political solution to the crisis."
Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarčič added: "Tragically we continue to see a worsening humanitarian situation in Syria. A decade of a devastating conflict continues to affect millions of Syrians including women and children. The international community must not lose sight of the plight of the affected civilians. The EU is stepping up its humanitarian assistance to save lives on the ground. We are renewing our commitment to helping the Syrian people and the hosting communities."
Neighbourhood and Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi said: "After 10 years of conflict in Syria, that is taking a heavy toll on the Syrian population and the neighbouring countries hosting Syrian refugees, the status quo in the region is untenable. This has been one of the main messages coming out from the Brussels V Conference today. And the EU's support will not stop with the significant financial assistance confirmed today: Our ‘New Agenda for the Mediterranean' foresees an Economic and Investment Plan that will help underpin the long term recovery of the region and help its stabilization."
Over 80 countries and international organisations were represented in the Brussels V Conference, which took place virtually on 29 and 30 March. Participants addressed the current situation in Syria and the region and renewed their support to the UN-led efforts for a comprehensive political solution to the conflict. The Brussels V Conference also provided a unique platform for dialogue with civil society in Syria and the region.
The Co-chairs adopted a statement.
Since 2017, the Brussels Conferences on 'Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region' have brought together the international community in support of UN efforts towards a political solution to the conflict in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254. They have allowed the donor community to pledge vital humanitarian and financial support for the Syrian population and neighbouring countries hosting Syrian refugees. Moreover, the five Conferences have offered a platform to bring representatives from Syrian, regional and international non-governmental and civil society organisations together with policy makers during the 'Days of Dialogue'.
Day of Dialogue with civil society
During the three live-streamed panel discussions of the Day of Dialogue on 29 March, representatives from Syrian, regional and international non-governmental and civil society organisations exchanged with ministers and senior decision-makers from the EU, the UN, Syria's neighbouring countries and other international partners. Discussions complemented a wide online consultation process that took place in February and March 2021 gathering inputs from over 1,500 individuals and organizations. The recommendations were conveyed by NGO rapporteurs at today's Ministerial meeting.
The Day of Dialogue can still be watched online.
Side and cultural events
From 15 to 26 March, side events hosted by EU member states, partner countries, UN agencies and other international organisations took place online.
The EU Regional Trust Fund in response to the Syrian Crisis, that has mobilized more than €2.3 billion from the EU, 21 EU member states, UK and Turkey to alleviate the consequences of the crisis since its establishment in December 2014, organized an outdoor photo exhibition from 15 to 30 March, together with ten municipalities of the Brussels' region, displaying portraits of women, men, boys and girls affected by the Syrian crisis, revealing the strength and resilience of exiled Syrians and those who welcome them in Syria's neighbouring countries. Their portraits remain available online.
The EU, in co-operation with Lagrange Points Brussels, organized four virtual concerts featuring a variety of Syrian musicians as well as Sufi whirling and poetry artists; an online introduction to Syrian cuisine; and a painting exhibition at Lagrange Points Brussels. All videos are available online.
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