On 29 and 30 March, the European Union will co-chair with the UN a fifth Brussels conference on 'Supporting the Future of Syria and of the Region' involving the participation of governments and international organizations as well as of Syrian civil society.
The European Union is ready to enhance dialogue among all international actors with influence in the Syrian crisis, and calls on them to join forces at the conference to reaffirm and consolidate strong support for a political solution in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
As in previous years, the conference will also generate international financial support to help meet the dramatically increasing humanitarian needs inside Syria, for Syrian refugees, and for refugee-hosting communities and countries in the region including countries like Turkey and Lebanon. There will be a strong call at the conference for the renewal of UN Security Council Resolution 2533 enabling safe, unhindered and sustained humanitarian access and the cross-border delivery of assistance, essential under current circumstances to meeting the vital needs of millions inside Syria.
On the eve of the fifth Brussels conference for Syria, the United Nations humanitarian, refugee and development chiefs have urged international donors to step up and stand with the millions of people in Syria and the region who depend on life-saving humanitarian aid and livelihood support after a decade of war.
With the added impact of COVID-19, there is no respite for civilians in Syria. They face increasing hunger and poverty, continued displacement and ongoing attacks. The neighbouring countries host four out of five Syrian refugees worldwide, in what remains the world’s largest refugee crisis, while also trying to address increasing socio-economic challenges for their own nationals.
Today 24 million people need humanitarian or other forms of assistance in Syria and the region. That is four million more than in 2020, and more than at any other time since the conflict began.
Sustained donor financing for the UN’s response plans will fund food, water and sanitation, health services, education, child vaccinations and shelter for millions of people living on the brink in Syria. It will also provide cash assistance, job or training opportunities, and other services such as access to primary and secondary education, in conjunction with national systems, to millions in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt.
In 2021, over US$10 billion is needed to fully support Syrians and refugee-hosting communities in need. This includes at least $4.2 billion for the humanitarian response inside Syria and $5.8 billion to support refugees and host communities in the region.
UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said: “It has been ten years of despair and disaster for Syrians. Now plummeting living conditions, economic decline and COVID-19 result in more hunger, malnutrition and disease. There is less fighting, but no peace dividend. More people need more help than at any point during the war, and children must return to learning. An investment in kindness and humanity is always good but sustaining the basic living standards for people in Syria is also an essential ingredient of sustainable peace. That is in everybody's interest.”
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said: “After a decade of exile, refugees’ hardship has been compounded by the crushing impact of the pandemic, lost livelihoods and education, deepening hunger and desperation. The hard-earned gains we’ve collectively achieved over years are already at risk. The international community cannot turn their backs on the refugees or their hosts. Refugees and their hosts must get nothing less than our unfaltering commitment, solidarity and support. A failure to do so will be catastrophic for the people and the region.”
UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner said: “It has been 12 months like no other for people across the world. Yet, for refugees from Syria and their host communities in the region, the COVID-19 pandemic hit during a decade-long crisis - stretching them to breaking point. At present, poverty and inequality are skyrocketing as hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs and livelihoods. And countries that host refugees are struggling to provide basic services like healthcare and water. Now, more than ever, the support of the international community is needed to meet life-saving humanitarian needs – and to tackle the acute development emergency that the region now faces.”
At last year's conference in Brussels, the international community pledged $5.5 billion in funding to support humanitarian, resilience and development activities in 2020.
Supporting the future of Syria and the region, Brussels V Conference programme and livestreaming from the conference
Statement by the USG/ERC Mark Lowcock with voices from Syria
Syrian voices and picture gallery from Syrian photographers
Download data and graphics on the Syria crisis and funding over 10 years
Belgian artist's 'portable oasis' creates COVID-free bubble for one
When governments around Europe told people to create a "bubble" to limit their social contacts during the COVID-19 pandemic, this was probably not what they had in mind, write Bart Biesemans and Clement Rossignol.
Alain Verschueren, a Belgian artist and social worker, has been strolling through the capital Brussels wearing a "portable oasis" - a plexiglass mini-greenhouse which rests on his shoulders, cocooning him in a bubble of air purified by the aromatic plants inside.
Verschueren, 61, developed the idea 15 years ago, inspired by the lush oases in Tunisia where he had previously worked. In a city where face coverings are mandatory to curb the spread of COVID-19, his invention has gained a new lease of life.
"It was about creating a bubble in which I could lock myself in, to cut myself off a world that I found too dull, too noisy or smelly," Verschueren said, adding that he has asthma and finds breathing within his contraption more comfortable than wearing a facemask.
Belgian artist Alain Verschueren wears his "Portable Oasis" while performing in a street, saying he wanted to be in his bubble in the middle of the city, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Brussels, Belgium 16 April. REUTERS/Yves Herman
"As time went by, I noticed that people were coming up to me and talking to me. This isolation became much more a way of connecting," he said.
Onlookers in Brussels appeared amused and confused by the man wandering between the shops - mostly closed due to COVID-19 restrictions - encased in a pod of thyme, rosemary and lavender plants.
"Is it a greenhouse? Is it for the bees? Is it for the plants? We don't know, but it's a good idea," Charlie Elkiess, a retired jeweller, told Reuters.
Verschueren said he hoped to encourage people to take better care of the environment, to reduce the need to protect ourselves from air and noise pollution.
Indo-Pacific: Council adopts conclusions on EU strategy for co-operation
The Council approved conclusions on an EU strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, setting out the EU’s intention to reinforce its strategic focus, presence and actions in this region of prime strategic importance for EU interests. The aim is to contribute to regional stability, security, prosperity and sustainable development, at a time of rising challenges and tensions in the region.
The renewed EU commitment to the Indo-Pacific, a region spanning from the east coast of Africa to the Pacific island states, will have a long-term focus and will be based on upholding democracy, human rights, the rule of law and respect for international law.
Current dynamics in the Indo-Pacific have given rise to intense geopolitical competition adding to increasing tensions on trade and supply chains as well as in technological, political and security areas. Human rights are also being challenged. These developments increasingly threaten the stability and security of the region and beyond, directly impacting on the EU’s interests.
Consequently, the EU’s approach and engagement will look to foster a rules-based international order, a level playing field, as well as an open and fair environment for trade and investment, reciprocity, the strengthening of resilience, tackling climate change and supporting connectivity with the EU. Free and open maritime supply routes in full compliance with international law remain crucial. The EU will look to work together with its partners in the Indo-Pacific on these issues of common interest.
The EU will continue to develop partnerships in the areas of security and defence, including to address maritime security, malicious cyber activities, disinformation, emerging technologies, terrorism, and organized crime.
The EU and its regional partners will also work together in order to mitigate the economic and human effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and work towards ensuring an inclusive and sustainable socio-economic recovery.
The Council tasked the High Representative and the Commission with putting forward a Joint Communication on co-operation in the Indo-Pacific by September 2021.
The conclusions were adopted by the Council by written procedure.
Conference on the Future of Europe: Make your voice heard
Share your views on the EU, organize events across Europe and discuss with others through the new digital platform on the Conference on the Future of Europe, EU affairs.
Launched on 19 April, the platform is the multilingual hub of the Conference on the Future of Europe that will allow people to get involved and suggest what changes need to take place in the EU. Europeans will also be able to see what others propose, comment on them and endorse ideas.
The EU institutions have committed to listening to what people say and to following up on the recommendations made. The Conference is expected to reach conclusions by the spring of 2022.
How do you take part?
Choose a topic that interests you. It could be anything from climate change to digital issues or EU democracy. If you don’t see a category with your topic, share your opinion in the Other Ideas category.
Once you are in a specific category, you can read the introduction and explore some useful links. On the Ideas tab, you can share your views and find the ideas of others. Join the discussion by leaving a comment, or vote for ideas you like so that more people can find them.
You can submit your comment in any of the EU's official 24 languages. All comments can be translated automatically in any of the other languages.
Under the Events tab, you can explore events organised online or near you, register for an event or prepare your own.
The platform fully respects users’ privacy and EU data protection rules.
What happens when you submit an opinion?
The submitted opinions and the debate they initiate will be the basis for discussions in citizens’ panels that will be organised across the EU at regional, national and European level. These panels will include people from different backgrounds so that they can be representative of the whole population of the EU.
The conclusions of the different panels will be then presented at a plenary session of the Conference, which will bring together citizens, representatives of EU institutions and national parliaments.
Join the discussion on social media about the Conference with the hashtag #TheFutureIsYours.
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