It is estimated that around 14 million people are in urgent need of aid as a result of the conflict in Syria. So far around 1.1 million people fleeing the fighting in Syria have taken refuge in Lebanon and a similar number in Turkey, over 600,000 in Jordan, over 200,000 in Iraq and over 100,000 in Egypt. President Burkhalter said at the conference in Berlin that these countries had demonstrated an unprecedented level of solidarity with the refugees.
The solidarity of the countries taking in most of the refugees was at the heart of the conference, organised by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Also discussed were ways of supporting those countries and neighbouring countries in coping with the significant strain placed upon them by the influx of Syrian refugees. President Burkhalter called upon the international community to seek long-term solutions for humanitarian, social and economic stability, and at the same time to implement short-term measures to respond to the challenges presented by the onset of winter. He underscored Switzerland's readiness to continue its support for improving conditions for the Syrian refugees and to consider still further increases in aid. In this respect he announced that Swiss Humanitarian Aid would be sending 1,000 cold weather tents, heaters and blankets to northern Iraq in November.
Switzerland has so far made approximately CHF 115 million available for aid operations in connection with the Syrian conflict and the crisis in Iraq. The money is being used as follows: supporting aid organisations active in the region (ICRC, UN agencies and humanitarian NGOs); carrying out direct operations (e.g. rehabilitation of approximately 70 schools in Jordan and Lebanon taking in refugee children from Syria); deploying specialists from the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (currently eight are seconded to UN operations in the region); and supporting the international coordination of humanitarian aid.
In addition to its humanitarian aid activities, Switzerland is also active in promoting a political solution to the conflict in Syria, supporting for example the work of the UN's special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura. Switzerland also advocates that the perpetrators of serious human rights violations be brought to justice. In this regard it endorses in particular the commission of inquiry of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which is investigating human rights violations in Syria. Switzerland has also repeatedly called for the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, so as to ensure that the perpetrators of war crimes and of crimes against humanity on all sides do not go unpunished.
On the margins of the conference, Mr Burkhalter met the German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, for a bilateral discussion which focused on the situation in Ukraine. Chairperson-in-Office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Mr Burkhalter discussed with Mr Steinmeier ways in which the OSCE might help to bring about a de-escalation of the conflict.
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