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Prime Minister Juha Sipilä's welcoming remarks at the Conference on Supporting Syria and the Region

Government Communications Department
24.1.2017 9.17

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Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasure and honour to welcome you to Helsinki for this conference on Supporting Syria and the Region.

The conflict in Syria is one of the most devastating of our times, with enormous humanitarian, social and economic consequences. It has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people — among them many children — and in more than one million people being injured. Almost 11 million people have been displaced and over 4.8 million refugees have fled to other countries, causing population movements of great magnitude not seen since the Second World War. 

Just in terms of statistics, the scale of the conflict is shocking. The numbers, though, fail to show the true impact of the conflict and the scale of suffering. The human cost has been immense.  

Because of the crisis, large groups of the Syrian population and refugees have fallen into extreme poverty and are struggling to survive. Women have been subject to sexual and gender-based violence and young girls have been forced into child marriage as a coping strategy to alleviate the family's poverty. More than half of the Syrian children are out of school across the region. Hospitals and schools have been destroyed and crucial public services have broken down due to the collapse of civilian infrastructure. Decades of development gains have been lost in a few years.

The conflict has also challenged international humanitarian principles, values and legal frameworks. Too many violations of international humanitarian and human rights law have been committed through the targeting of civilians. War tactics, based on denial of access to life-saving humanitarian aid, are widely used. A number of aid workers have lost their lives in the line of duty when convoys carrying humanitarian goods have been attacked. 

After six years of this conflict, the humanitarian crisis in Syria is worse than ever before, with altogether 13.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This conference on Supporting Syria and the Region, including the launch of the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan for 2017 and 2018, is a strong call and reminder of our collective responsibility to provide assistance to those affected by this devastating war.

The appeals and plans presented today by the UN agencies on behalf of the humanitarian community provide a platform to help us restore the dignity and hope for the future of all Syrians. We also all share in the responsibility to assist the refugees in the neighbouring countries. Finland has contributed in various ways and is committed to doing its part also in the future.

As discussed at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul last year, complex situations require a comprehensive response and a better alignment of humanitarian and development assistance. The plans presented today are built with this vision in mind.

A lot can be and has been achieved through our common efforts. Especially, I would like to commend the extraordinary generosity that Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt have demonstrated by hosting millions of refugees. 

Many other countries have also shown their good will and provided generous support to the victims of the Syrian conflict. We commend the outcomes of the London conference on Syria, which was co-hosted by the United Kingdom, Germany, Kuwait and Norway, and we welcome the initiative for its follow-up by the EU as a host. 

I would also like to pay tribute to the United Nations relief agencies, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and non-governmental organisations, whose efforts to deliver assistance in exceptionally difficult circumstances have made the difference between life and death for many Syrians. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

We know that there are no humanitarian solutions to political problems. We also know that there is no alternative to solving the Syrian conflict by any other means than political. The international community must actively work towards a lasting political solution in line with the United Nations Security Council resolutions. The cease-fire agreement has to be respected and humanitarian aid must reach all people in need. The process should lead to restarting the political negotiations under the UN auspices.

Against this background, the UN Charter and the three pillars of the UN system — peace and security, human rights, and development — remain more relevant than ever. 

With these words, I would like to welcome you once again to Helsinki and wish you a successful conference. 

I now hand over to the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development. Minister Mykkänen, the floor is yours. 

Juha Sipilä
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