Costello calls for Syrian government to give humanitarian groups access


THE SYRIAN government should immediately allow access to humanitarian organisations to address the plight of civilians caught up in the escalating violence, Minister of State for Trade and Development Joe Costello has said following a visit to the Syria-Jordan border.

Mr Costello, who earlier this week visited the Za’atari refugee camp, which contains more than 19,000 Syrians, noted that currently no organisations other than the local arm of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is authorised to operate in Syria.

“This is a major humanitarian crisis and there is a great need for humanitarian organisations to have access on the ground to provide services that are urgently needed. There are normal procedures in any conflict situation and the fact it is not happening in this case is a very serious matter and no doubt causes many casualties that could be avoided,” he said.

“We are calling very strongly for the regime to give access and guarantee safe passage for these organisations and for the rebel forces to do likewise.”

Mr Costello questioned why the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad had not allowed access so far. “I presume the reason is that they just don’t want them there, they don’t want them to see what is happening.”

During his visit to Jordan, Mr Costello announced that Ireland would contribute an extra €1.5 million in aid to UN agencies and partner organisations working with Syrians affected by the violence. The extra funding will bring Ireland’s contribution to more than €2 million.

At the Za’atari refugee camp, Mr Costello met families who had fled from the southern Syrian town of Deraa, where the uprising was sparked last year after a number of schoolboys were tortured by government forces because they had written anti-regime slogans on a wall.

“They told me there was constant conflict there, a lot of shooting and a lot of bombardment,” Mr Costello said.

“They were all in fear of their lives and that is why they were coming in droves.”

Before he left for Jordan, Mr Costello heard from representatives of a newly established lobby group called the Irish Syrian Solidarity Campaign, which includes a number of Syrians living in Ireland.

The group calls for Ireland to “recognise the right of the Syrian people to self defence and back calls for no-fly zones and safe areas”. Syrian doctors involved in the campaign, some of whom have spent time as volunteer medics in some of the worst-affected areas, have urged the Government to channel humanitarian funding through Syrian opposition groups.

Mr Costello said this was not possible. “Our position is that we have to deal with Irish money in a very careful way and we could only transmit funding through the acknowledged reliable channels that are in place and they are the UN and the ICRC. I did indicate to them that if they could guarantee a reliable pathway for medical equipment and supplies to get to civilians within Syria, I might consider that.”