Tuesday

16th Aug 2022

EU diplomat voices concern on Syria children

EU countries must redouble efforts to get Syrian children back to school, or risk a generation more prone to radical ideas, a European diplomat has warned.

“What we’ve seen over the summer is a change in the kind of refugees coming to Europe. It’s not just young men. It’s families and children. If you talk to them, they’ll tell you that even if there’s a ceasefire tomorrow, they can’t go home because they can’t ensure a future for their children,” Christian Berger, the EU foreign service’s Middle East director, told a European Parliament hearing on Wednesday (18 November).

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Speaking in the context of the Paris attack last week, he described the issue as a “long-term strategic threat.”

“We have to make sure the children, whether they’re in Europe, or in refugee camps, or in other places we can reach, are being educated .. or this will come back to haunt us in future,” he added.

Haitham al-Maleh, a Syrian jurist and former prisoner of conscience, told MEPs at the event that 2.5 million Syrian children are out of school.

The 85-year old broke down in tears when he mentioned the number.

He went on to list other war damage, including: 350,000 dead, 25,000 of them children; 300,000 incarcerated; 13.5 million displaced; 3 million houses destroyed; also 4,400 schools, 2,029 mosques, and 70 percent of hospitals.

The Syria war, now in its fifth year, is the main source of the EU refugee crisis.

It is also the source of the Paris security crisis, after Islamic State (IS), one of the principal rebel groups in Syria, claimed responsibility for the French assault.

Recent talks in Vienna said UN-brokered ceasefire negotiations are to start on 1 January, followed by a new constitution, and internationally monitored elections.

They raised hope because Iran and Saudi Arabia, the main adversaries in what is also a regional conflict, attended for the first time.

Berger described the Vienna accord as a “positive step.”

'Multiple conflicts'

But he noted the political process can’t start until the shooting stops.

He also noted Syria has become a theatre for “multiple conflicts.”

He listed them as: Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad vs. all opposition forces; IS vs. all other forces; Sunni Muslim Syrians vs. Shia Muslim Syrians; Iran and Hezbollah (an Iran-backed militia in Lebanon) vs. the Gulf states; Turkey vs. Kurdish forces; Israel vs. Hezbollah; and Russia vs. the West.

“It’s difficult to come up with one political process which addresses all of these,” Berger said.

But he indicated EU states can do more to stop financial and arms flows “to get the oxygen out of the fighting.”

For his part, Hisham Marwah, a prominent figure in the Syrian National Coalition, a Qatari-founded anti-Assad group, told MEPs “moderate” military groups in Syria are in talks to form a new “military council” in line with the Vienna process.

He said Assad created IS by freeing radicals from jail to foster a situation in which it’s “either him or the terrorists.”

Iran is key

Fouad Hamdan, the director of the Rule of Law Foundation, a Dutch-based NGO, said only “boots on the ground” will defeat IS.

He added that Iran, not Russia, will be decisive on Syria’s future, and on the region’s future more broadly, because it will never disarm Hezbollah or withdraw from Syria so long as it feels threatened by the West or by Gulf states.

“You have to give Iran something,” he said.

Hamdan, who comes from Lebanon, said his home country is “on the verge of exploding again,” following 25 years of peace since the 1975 to 1990 civil war.

He said it’s also “on the verge” of a new Hezbollah-Israel war.

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