On the margins of the conference, Mr Burkhalter reiterated this position during a meeting with Syrians representing different groups working for peace in Syria. He praised them for their efforts in seeking dialogue and working for their country’s future. The aim of this meeting was to emphasise Switzerland’s support for greater involvement of civil society in the political process and to learn firsthand about the concerns and needs of the Syrian civilian population. Over 50 Syrian civil society organisations met in Brussels for three days of intensive discussions at the invitation of the European Union and the United Nations. On the evening of 4 April, the FDFA’s Human Security Division invited the participants to exchange views on the results of their discussions in an informal setting.
The Syria conference in Brussels focused on support for a lasting political solution, ways to the rebuild the country once a lasting solution is achieved, and a reaffirmation of humanitarian and financial commitments. In his address, Mr Burkhalter called on all parties to the conflict to abandon their most opposed positions and to show a readiness to compromise in the interests of peace. "We expect goodwill and confidence-building measures from the parties to the conflict, for example a mechanism to negotiate the exchange of prisoners,” said Mr Burkhalter. To this end, Switzerland is prepared to offer its support to the Syrian actors and to regional powers.
The minister of foreign affairs confirmed Switzerland’s contribution for the current year to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people. Since the beginning of the conflict, Switzerland has provided emergency assistance on the ground and has allocated approximately CHF 250 million to respond to the humanitarian crisis. For 2017, Switzerland has allocated an additional CHF 66 million. Switzerland has also earmarked an additional sum of CHF 7.5 million for peacebuilding measures, conflict transformation and human rights. As the Syrian conflict enters its sixth year, it requires a combination of emergency aid and long-term assistance. Switzerland provides additional funds to support partner organisations on the ground in order to meet the ever-increasing humanitarian needs of the civilian population.
Representatives of some 70 states, international organisations and non-governmental organisations took part in the high-level conference, which was organised by the EU and the UN, Germany, Kuwait, Norway, Qatar and the United Kingdom.
Famine in East Africa
The humanitarian situation in the Horn of Africa and in Yemen, where people are facing famine, was the topic of a separate meeting following the Syria conference. The meeting was organised by the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, and the UN Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O'Brien. Representatives of various states and organisations took part, and so did Mr Burkhalter. The aim of the meeting was to analyse the situation and the need for humanitarian assistance and to prepare the meeting on 12 April in Berlin on the humanitarian crisis in Africa and in Yemen in particular as well as the Somalia conference in London on 11 May.
Meeting of humanitarian actors on eve of high-level meeting
On 4 April, the day before the high-level conference, a meeting was held to identify solutions and make recommendations to ensure more effective humanitarian aid and improved access to the people in need. The participants also discussed ways to better educational and income-generating opportunities for refugees in Syria’s neighbouring countries. Ambassador Manuel Bessler, Federal Council delegate for Swiss Humanitarian Aid, headed the Swiss delegation. In view of the enormous humanitarian needs, Switzerland considers it vitally important for the international community to continue to focus on emergency aid and strengthening resilience.
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