“We must enhance our aid, act fast and strengthen coordination”

Bern, 28.10.2014 - Berlin, 28.10.2014 - Speech by the President of the Swiss Confederation, Mr. Didier Burkhalter, on the occasion of the Berlin Conference on the Syrian Refugee Situation - Check against delivery

Dear colleagues,

Thank you for convening this important conference. Switzerland appreciates this initiative by the German government.

I would like to extend my deep gratitude to Syria’s neighbouring States and Egypt as well as their people for showing an unmatched level of solidarity with the refugees from Syria.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This conference comes at a crucial moment. We must enhance our aid, we must act fast and well-coordinated.

We must enhance our aid. The ongoing conflict in Syria has provoked one of the worst humanitarian crises in decades. We talk about almost 14 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. Behind this figure, there are 14 million individual stories of suffering. Aid workers have made tireless efforts to scale up assistance. But they still cannot keep pace with the steadily rising demand and need our help and support.

We must act fast. The approaching winter poses particular challenges. We must take immediate measures to ensure that hundreds of thousands of people have a warm and safe place to stay. Switzerland has been engaged in providing winter aid in the region since 2011. This year we will provide affected people in Iraq with winter equipment such as tents, heaters and blankets.

We must coordinate our efforts effectively over the long-term. The protracted situation and increasing signs of fragility in the region call for an approach in which humanitarian, development and macro-economic stabilisation instruments go hand in hand. And we must enhance the resilience of vulnerable refugees and local populations, leaving host governments in the driver’s seat.

Switzerland will continue to assume its share of responsibility, focusing on the three priorities for our engagement regarding the Syria crisis: humanitarian aid, the search for a political solution, and respect for international law.

In terms of humanitarian aid, we have so far allocated around 100 million euros for the Syria crisis and for Iraq. We will stay committed and we are ready to further increase our support. We will also continue our dialogue for better access to aid and protection for affected people in the region.

Protecting populations is essential. With the majority of Syrian refugees living in urban settings, we must maximize our efforts to promote peaceful cohabitation with local communities.

Children are especially vulnerable; they are also at the heart of integration and they are the future: for this reason, Switzerland – together with Liechtenstein – aims to facilitate access to education for both Syrian refugees and local school children, by refurbishing more than 70 schools in Jordan and Lebanon.

As for the need to find a political solution to the Syrian conflict, tackling the root causes of the refugee crisis by reviving an inclusive political process is key. We restate our complete support for the mission of the UN Special Envoy to Syria. The challenges are huge, but we owe it to everyone suffering in the region to strengthen our efforts to re-establish a process of dialogue. Dialogue with all those who can be part of the solution, and resolute measures against those who stand for nothing but violence and destruction. The Swiss government has banned the group known as “Islamic State”.

Finally, we call once again on all parties to the conflict to fully respect international law, and international humanitarian law especially. There shall be no impunity for horrific crimes, which is why Switzerland supports the Commission of Inquiry created by the UN Human Rights Council and referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court.

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