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Syria - The conflict that is tearing the country apart

Humanitarian aid 11-02-2016 - 17:59 / Updated: 14-12-2016 - 16:11

The conflict in Syria has not only posed a threat to the region’s stability in recent years, but it has also had a terrible human cost and is now considered the largest humanitarian crisis since the World War II. By September 2016, 13.5 million Syrians were in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the European Commission. The EU has been deeply concerned about the situation since the start. Read on to find out what it is doing to help. (Read more: What the EU is doing to support the victims of the Syrian conflict )

The situation in Aleppo following the breakdown of a deal to evacuate rebels and civilians from the long-besieged Syrian city was the focus of a debate in Parliament this morning. Ahead of tomorrow’s EU summit, MEPs described the situation variously as “hell on earth”, a “death factory” and the “meltdown of humanity”. They called for an immediate cessation of hostilities as well as access for humanitarian aid. A number of speakers were highly critical of Russia’s role in the conflict. (Read more: Battle for Aleppo: MEPs call for an immediate cessation of hostilities)

Volunteers from the Syria Civil Defence - better known as the White Helmets - risk their lives on a daily basis by serving as the main rescue group operating in besieged eastern Aleppo. Addressing Parliament’s foreign affairs and development committees on 5 December, their chief liaison officer Abdulrahman Al-Mawwas decried the current situation in Aleppo and called for both a no-fly zone and humanitarian corridors to prevent a large-scale humanitarian disaster. (Read more: Syria’s White Helmets: “We need a no-fly zone and humanitarian corridors”)

UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura has warned MEPs that Aleppo's besieged eastern part could be obliterated by Christmas. After six years of war, the suffering of civilians in Syria continues unabated and in recent days more than 50,000 people have fled eastern areas of Syria’s second city as government forces advance. In an interview following his meeting yesterday with Parliament’s foreign affairs and development committees, the UN envoy spoke of the need for a political solution. (Read more: UN Syria envoy: “I cannot say how long eastern Aleppo will last”)

A reform of EU migration and asylum policies and procedures needs to include gender-sensitive measures to ensure the safety of women seeking asylum, many of whom travel with young children and other dependents, say MEPs in a resolution voted on Tuesday. (Read more: MEPs call for gender-sensitivity in asylum policy)

“For the benefit of refugees we need to cooperate with Turkey,” EP President Martin Schulz said following a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on Monday 7 March. They discussed the refugee crisis, border controls, visa liberalisation for Turkish citizens as well as press freedom in Turkey, ahead of a meeting with the EU heads of state and thwe Turkish government in Brussels to discuss measures to stem the flow of migrants. (Read more: Schulz: “For the benefit of refugees we need to cooperate with Turkey”)

With Europe experiencing the largest influx of migrants since World War II, one of the major challenges is how to integrate them into the labour markets. Not only would a job help migrants to provide for themselves, but also to integrate more easily. Parliament's employment committee discussed the opportunities and challenges with experts on Thursday 18 February. Read on to find out what they and MEPs had to say. (Read more: How to make the integration of refugees into the labour market work)

“Political grandstanding” that equates refugees with terrorists only foments the hatred and disillusion that inspires those who join terrorist groups, argued many MEPs in Wednesday’s debate. Rather than allow Europe’s freedoms and tolerance to be eroded, EU countries must strive to strengthen security, by stepping up intelligence cooperation and data-sharing, and investing in the skills and technology needed to fight terrorism, MEPs urged. (Read more: Don’t equate refugees with terrorists – boost security instead, urge MEPs )

EP President Martin Schulz travelled today to the Greek island of Lesbos in order to visit a refugee registration and identification centre where almost 2,500 people are recorded on a daily basis. Speaking at the so-called hotspot at Moria, he said: "We must urgently reinforce efforts to complete hotspots. To be effective, however, all member states must take part in the relocation." While in Greece the President also visited Athens for the first relocation of refugees from Greece to Luxembourg. (Read more: Schulz in Lesbos: "People are really running for their lives")

Parliament's foreign affairs committee held an exchange of views with Mohammed bin Amin Al-Jefri, Deputy Speaker of the Majlis Al-Shura, the Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia in Brussels on Monday 28 September. The situation in Saudi Arabia and the region as well as the migration crisis centring on Syria and relations between the kingdom and the European Union were discussed. (Read more: Mohammed bin Amin Al-Jefri: "Taking in Syrian refugees reflects EU's respect for human rights")

"The first priority today is and must be tackling the refugee crisis," said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker during the 2015 State of the Union debate at the European Parliament on Wednesday 9 September. "The EU is facing migration, the economic crisis and wars in its neighbourhood. We have to contribute to a solution to these challenges," said EP President Martin Schulz, EP's President in his opening remarks. (Read more: Refugee crisis must be first priority, says Juncker in 2015 State of the Union debate)

The international community must deliver on its pledges to step up humanitarian aid and assistance to the millions suffering in the crisis in Iraq and Syria, MEPs urged in a resolution voted on Thursday. They also called on the EU to consider convening a donor conference and stressed the need for a political transition in Syria and an inclusive government in Iraq to cut the ground from under the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Daesh). (Read more: Humanitarian crisis in Iraq and Syria: MEPs call for aid and donor conference)

When it comes to fighting poverty around the globe, the EU and the member states take it very seriously. Together they are the world's largest aid donor, spending €56.5 billion in 2013 alone to help countries across the world fight poverty. This represented more than half of public aid that year. In December 2013 the European Parliament approved more than € 51.4 billion for supporting countries and regions outside the EU in 2014-2020. (Read more: €56.5 billion: how the EU and member states are fighting poverty world-wide)

Lebanon, a country of just over four million inhabitants, is struggling to shelter 1.5 million Syrian refugees. "They are sharing our water, electricity, schools and hospitals with us," said Lebanese prime minister Tammam Salam. "The country was not programmed for this. It was barely programmed to handle its own needs." Salam was in the European Parliament on 2 December to discuss his country's most pressing issues, including efforts to deal with the spill-over of the conflict in Syria. (Read more: Lebanese PM on Syrian refugee crisis: "We have an unprecedented situation")

Turkey should do more to help Kurds fight off the IS threat in Kobane, many MEPs said in a debate on the besieged Syrian city on 22 October. They also condemned the violence by IS and said more should be done to tackle the terrorist group and help its victims. Some also raised the potential threat of chemical weapons and said a wider strategy was needed for the Middle East. (Read more: Kobane: MEPs call on Turkey to do more to help Syrian city under threat by IS)

Every year conflicts, persecution and natural disasters force millions of children, women and men to flee their homes in search of safety. Some look for refuge in EU. Last year alone member states offered protection to 135,700 asylum seekers, nearly half of which were given refugee status. In honour of World Refugee Day on 20 June, we take a look at what the Parliament and the EU are doing to help. (Read more: World Refugee Day: more people being offered protection in the EU)

A generation of Syrian children is at risk, affecting the country’s chances of recovery after the conflict, experts told MEPs. On 18 December the foreign affairs and development committees organised a debate on how to help the victims of the conflict in Syria, especially the children. "The real danger is that we will lose a generation of Syrian children to hatred and hopelessness,” said Anthony Lake, the executive director of UNICEF. (Read more: Syria: “The crisis has the face of a child”)

The EU should convene a humanitarian conference aimed at helping Syria's neighbouring countries to cope with the still-growing influx of refugees, said the European Parliament in a resolution passed on Wednesday. MEPs urged the EU to go on providing humanitarian aid and support to refugees and to guarantee them safe entry and access to fair asylum procedures in the EU. (Read more: Parliament calls for humanitarian conference on Syrian refugee crisis)

Hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled the Syrian regime and are now stranded in the Jordanian desert. Juan Fernando López Aguilar, a Spanish member of the S&D group, led a delegation of MEPs to Jordan last week to see first-hand the tragedy behind the headlines. "They dream of returning to their homes," he said. "They are calling on us to act." We spoke to Mr López Aguilar about how the EU could make a difference in this humanitarian crisis that threatens to overwhelm relief efforts. (Read more: The Arab Spring has turned into a nightmare for Syrian refugees - López Aguilar)

New search and rescue rules to clarify how border guards serving in Frontex sea operations should deal with migrants and where they should disembark them were approved by Parliament on Wednesday. The regulation, already informally agreed by Parliament and Council negotiators, should enter into force before this summer. (Read more: Migrants: Parliament approves search and rescue rules to prevent deaths at sea)

Some 462 million children live in countries affected by war or national disasters and about 75 million of them need educational support. The EU and Unicef launched the Emergency Lessons campaign this year to highlight the importance of education for children affected by emergencies. On 6 December children, teachers and volunteers visited the Parliament in Brussels to talk about their experiences. (Read more: Emergency Lessons: the importance of educating children in emergency situations)

More than 10 years after EU-Turkey accession talks started, MEPs adopted a resolution on 24 November calling for the negotiations to be suspended until the Turkish government ended its disproportionate and repressive response to July's failed coup. Ankara replied by threatening to let thousands of migrants pass through to Europe. Greek EPP member Manolis Kefalogiannis, head of Parliament’s delegation to Turkey, commented: “We are entering a new phase in EU-Turkey relations”. (Read more: EU-Turkey relations: “We are entering a new phase”)

With the collapse of a US-Russia brokered ceasefire last month, the war in Syria looks as intractable as ever and violence has escalated in the past fortnight. During a plenary debate on Wednesday afternoon several MEPs criticised Russia’s involvement in the conflict with others calling for the EU to play a greater role in resolving the crisis. (Read more: “Hell on earth”: MEPs debate Aleppo and role of Russia in Syria conflict)

From Syrian refugees on their way to being resettled to Europe to Palestine refugees who have been living in camps for years: members from the civil liberties committee delegation got to speak to many different people during their fact-finding mission to Lebanon on 19-22 September. They were there to assess the situation to help prepare future rules on the resettlement of refugees. They also spoke to representatives of local NGOs and large international organisations. (Read more: Lebanon: better EU resettlement tools needed to help the country deal with refugee crisis)

World Refugee Day is held every year on 20 June in tribute to the people forced to flee their country due to war, conflicts or poverty. Last year alone more than one million people fled to the EU by crossing the Mediterranean. Of these 3,3771 are reported missing or dead. Most of the refugees arriving in Europe - 38% - came from Syria. Check out our infographic to see how the situation evolved in each member state and the EU as a whole from 2011 to 2015. (Read more: World Refugee Day: the situation in Europe)

Opening an extraordinary session with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi on the occasion of International Women's Day, Parliament’s President Martin Schulz highlighted Parliament's continuous efforts to combat all forms of violence against women, be it in their home countries, when fleeing or upon arrival in the EU. Mr Grandi called on the EU to reaffirm its values and to reject “blanket” return policies without stipulating safeguard clauses. (Read more: "Moment of truth to reaffirm EU values" urges UN High Commissioner for Refugees)

Gülhan was a physics student in Syria when the civil war put paid to her promising future. Now 32 she has already spent four years living at Osmaniye refugee camp in southern Turkey, an existence that has become routine for her and her three young children. The conflict in Syria has resulted in the world's largest humanitarian disaster since World War II and last week two EP delegations led by Sylvie Guillaume and Jean Arthuis visited some of those whose lives have been upturned by the conflict. (Read more: Refugees: MEPs assess the situation on the ground in Turkey)

Migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos warned MEPs the refugee crisis was "getting worse" during a meeting organised by the civil liberties committee on 14 January. He said the EU's unity was at stake amid an increase of "populism and nationalism". The commissioner also called on member states to deliver on their own promises and show solidarity to each other: "If Schengen collapses, it will be the beginning of the end of the European project". (Read more: Refugee crisis: "If Schengen collapses, it'll be start of end European project")

The real divide revealed by today’s migration challenges to the EU is between “pros”, who want to use the EU to solve these challenges, and “antis”, who want to use them to dissolve the EU, argued many MEPs in Tuesday’s debate. Most deplored EU member states’ slowness to deliver on their pledges to pay for more help for refugees, and more manpower to process them at EU borders. The €2.3 bn shortfall is the same as it was two months ago, noted Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. (Read more: Migration debate: the real divide)

EU heads of state and government met this Wednesday 23 September to discuss the migration crisis in the EU and, speaking at the start of the European Council, EP President Schulz said that the European Union "is built on de facto solidarity, out of necessity, not romanticism." "The European Parliament will now engage as a matter of priority with the Council on the proposals presented by President Juncker on 9 September, and present its own further proposals, " he said. (Read more: EP President Schulz at the European Council: "Compassion and human decency must motivate our political decisions")

Hundreds of of refugees continue to arrive at Europe's external borders every day. MEPs approved on 9 September a plan to relocate 40,000 migrants from Italy and Greece to other member states. After the vote we talked to Ska Keller, a German member of the Greens/EFA group who is responsible for steering the plan through Parliament, about the refugee crisis and the relocation scheme (Read more: Ska Keller: "We need to create a win-win situation for refugees and the whole of society")

The EU should do everything possible to prevent further loss of life at sea, e.g. by expanding the mandate of “Triton” operation in the Mediterranean to include "search and rescue operations at EU level", says a resolution voted by Parliament on Wednesday. MEPs also call for a binding quota for distributing asylum seekers among all EU countries, bigger contributions to resettlement programmes, better cooperation with third countries and tougher measures against people smugglers. (Read more: Migration: Parliament calls for urgent measures to save lives)

Europe should focus on saving lives when dealing with migration, said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in a speech at the European Parliament on 27 May. During the plenary session he called attention to the 1,800 people who drowned while crossing the Mediterranean this year: “Europe has an important role to play and a collective responsibility to act. Saving lives should be the priority.” He also discussed sustainable development and preventing violent extremism. (Read more: Ban Ki-moon on migration: “Saving lives should be the top priority”)

Millions of people are on the run in places such as Syria and Nigeria due to the rise of violent extremism, many of them receiving essential aid from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Its president Peter Maurer was in the European Parliament to meet the foreign affairs committee on 26 May and President Martin Schulz on 27 May. We talked to him to find out what life is like in these crisis-hit areas and how Europe could help to make a difference. (Read more: Red Cross: "Life in Syria after years of conflict has become very difficult")

MEPs condemned the violence carried out by the so-called Islamic State, also known as Daesh, and called for more support to help its victims. Because of the continuing conflict 12.2 million Syrians were in need of humanitarian assistance by January 2015. During the debate on the humanitarian crisis in Syria and Iraq on 11 February, MEPs also called for action on EU citizens joining jihadi groups and for more cooperation with other countries. (Read more: Syria and Iraq: “Words are not enough to help the people in this region”)

Following the Paris attacks the secretary-general of the Arab League has urged greater cooperation between it and the EU to counter extremism. Addressing Parliament's foreign affairs committee on 20 January Nabil El Araby said "the problems we face now are of universal character and are not confined to one place." He outlined how the Arab world looks upon Europe and said that "the European Union has been to the forefront of all just causes." (Read more: Nabil El Araby: "The EU is looked upon by many as the conscience of mankind today")

More than nine million Syrians have been forced to flee their homes in recent years due to the violence in the country, made worse by the Islamic State (IS), with many of them going to neighbouring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. The development committee discussed their situation and the humanitarian crisis in Syria on 3 November. The exchange of views followed October's plenary debates on the situation in Kobanê, which is under siege by IS, and the issue of Europeans joining IS. (Read more: Nine million and counting: how to help the Syrian refugees)

More than nine million Syrians have been forced to leave their homes in the last few years. Now, with IS advancing in both Syria and Iraq, the situation is getting worse. “No conflict has ever seen so many deaths, so many refugees, so many internally displaced people in so little time,” said Frej Fenniche, a representative of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), during a hearing on 13 October organised by human rights subcommittee. (Read more: Syria and Iraq: growing numbers of refugees put pressure on neighbouring countries )

Asylum applications in the EU were up by some 100,000 in 2013 compared to the year before, while at least 600 people are believed to have died while trying to reach Europe via maritime routes. MEPs will discuss the latest developments on 24 September when the European Commission presents the latest annual report on immigration and asylum to the civil liberties committee. The report stressed that the EU needed to do more on immigration, asylum and the smuggling and trafficking of human beings. (Read more: Dying to get to Europe: nearly 450,000 asylum seekers a year make their way to EU)

The murders of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid worker David Haines by the so-called Islamic State (IS) were strongly condemned by the European Parliament in a resolution voted on Thursday. The EU must use all possible means to help the Iraqi national and local authorities combat the IS, including appropriate military assistance, they said. They also urged the international community to cut off IS resources, and called for a political solution to the Syrian conflict. (Read more: Islamic State: step up EU and international efforts to end the killing, MEPs say )

REF. : 20130905TST18719
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