Thank you very much, Mr. Chair and honourable members.
My focus today will be on the political and security aspects of the situation in Syria. Detail on the humanitarian situation will be given by my colleague Stephen Salewicz. My other colleague, Sabine Nolke, will update you on the international community's response to Assad's use of chemical weapons in Syria.
The situation in Syria has evolved considerably over the last few years and now presents a dire conundrum for the international community. The conflict began in March 2011, when the Assad regime responded with sustained, indiscriminate and brutal repression to pro-democracy demonstrations. From the starting point of a purely domestic conflict, the crisis has since evolved to have multiple regional and global players and implications. These additional players and agendas further complicate the search for a solution.
Following the regime's crackdown, a variety of armed opposition groups emerged. The armed opposition is a collection of actors existing along a wide spectrum, from the secular elements of defected Syrian security services personnel, through domestic Islamist groups, to al-Qaeda affiliated militia with significant foreign membership and support.
A number of groups in the opposition draw support from gulf states and from western countries such as Turkey and others, while the Assad regime draws support from Iran, the Hezbollah, based in Lebanon, and Russia.
The opposition groups are not united, and they will occasionally alternate between loose cooperation on the battlefield and elsewhere and clashing militarily. At present, the parties to the conflict have largely reached a military stalemate, although tactical momentum does shift to one side or the other from time to time.
The intervention and support of Hezbollah and Iran has worked in favour of the regime of late, but a decisive victory by one side or the other remains highly unlikely. The involvement of external supporters with a religious agenda has ignited strong sectarian forces in what was and has been a traditionally non-sectarian society.
Further, the conflict has been seen by some in Syria's Kurdish population as an opportunity to pursue nationalist aspirations. This complicates the delicate relations between the neighbouring Kurdish populations in Turkey and Iraq and their respective governments.
As a result of all these factors, any solution for serious conflict must reconcile the various interests of multiple regional powers and domestic groups, all vying for pre-eminence, as well as foreign countries protecting their regional interests.
Canadian interests are heightened by the fact that Syria's neighbours are either struggling with the economic, security, and political pressures related to hosting large and ever-growing refugee populations and/or are concerned about the security implications of extremist groups operating freely on their frontier. This in turn has served to heighten concerns about regional stability, and particularly the political stability of Jordan and Lebanon.
Against this backdrop, allow me to outline Canada's approach to the crisis.
Our response has five main elements: one, providing humanitarian assistance to address the needs of the many hundreds of thousands affected in Syria and in refugee host communities; two, responding to chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats; three, increasing pressure on the Assad regime and its allies through sanctions and diplomatic engagement; four, providing bilateral development and security assistance to regional countries to assist them in responding to Syrian refugees; and five, carefully calibrated support to the Syrian opposition's efforts to become a viable alternative to the Assad regime by providing training in key fields, including communications, documentation of human rights abuses, and local governance.
On this last point, it should be noted that Canada has not recognized the Syrian Opposition Coalition, or the SOC, as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people, as we are not persuaded that the SOC is sufficiently representative, has reassured Syria's minority communities that their rights will be protected or has unequivocally condemned extremism. We have gone to great lengths to ensure that any support provided to opposition actors is directed at the democratic, secular, progressive elements of the opposition and is not diverted to extremist groups.
Canada continues to believe that the only way to end the crisis is through a Syrian-led political transition leading to the emergence of a free, democratic, and pluralist Syria.
Over the past months, considerable diplomatic effort with the parties to the conflict and regional players has been brought to bear with the aim of holding a second Geneva-style peace conference. This conference is currently confirmed for January 22, 2014. Postponement remains, however, an ever-present possibility, given the fractious nature of the opposition, disagreements over pre-conditions to negotiations between the regime and the opposition, and continued debate about who can attend the negotiations.
Fragile though they may be, these talks represent the current best chance for a negotiated solution through the emergence of a transitional governing body.
In the run-up to Geneva II, however, it is likely that we will see concerted efforts by both sides to gain advantage on the ground in order to increase their leverage at the negotiating table.
With that, I conclude my statement, and I will hand the floor to my colleague, Stephen Salewicz.
Mr. Chair, honourable members, thank you for the opportunity to be here today to provide an overview of the humanitarian crisis in Syria, the impact on neighbouring countries, the challenges in providing assistance, and how Canada is responding to both the crisis and those challenges.
The situation in Syria and the region has rapidly evolved into a profound humanitarian crisis that is challenging the humanitarian community's ability to respond. In a little more than two years, over half of Syria's population is either in need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria or seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. Increasingly, refugees from Syria are also making their way to Europe.
Access to food, health care, water, housing, and education is severely affected by the cumulative effects of armed conflict. A middle-income country that once enjoyed a relatively modern level of health care, Syria is now facing an outbreak of polio, the first in 14 years.
Children are disproportionately affected by the crisis. If the conflict persists, we are facing what some are calling a lost generation. Children are victimized and traumatized by the conflict surrounding them. An entire generation is out of school and highly vulnerable to exploitation. In both Jordan and Lebanon, children as young as seven are working long hours for little pay, sometimes in dangerous or exploitative conditions. Over 3,700 refugee children are unaccompanied or separated from both parents.
Born from the Arab Spring that ushered in tremendous change in the Middle East, the conflict in Syria has resulted in a protracted and complicated humanitarian emergency that risks destabilizing the region.
The impact on neighbouring countries is immense. Syria's neighbours have generously received close to three million refugees. They have done so at great expense to themselves and in some cases at the risk of destabilizing their own country. Imagine the consequences in Canada if our population increased by 25% in just a few months, as is the case in Lebanon.
In both Lebanon and Jordan, which are hosting the largest number of refugees in the region, the impact on social services, infrastructure, and communities cannot be overstated. The unprecedented scale and complexity of the crisis requires a comprehensive approach to address the huge social and economic challenges it poses to those countries.
The humanitarian response to the crisis is beset with challenges. Reaching civilian populations during a conflict is always difficult. In Syria, where there are hundreds of different parties to the conflict, the security situation is highly unpredictable, creating a very difficult environment for those seeking to deliver humanitarian assistance.
The conflict has been deadly for humanitarian workers in Syria. Dozens have been killed, injured, kidnapped, or are missing. The tactic of besieging areas where there are civilian populations for extended periods of time and restricting the humanitarian access has worsened the humanitarian situation and compromised the delivery of life-saving supplies and services.
While restrictions have very recently loosened, the Assad regime continues to impose administrative and bureaucratic impediments to the delivery of humanitarian assistance by limiting visas, delaying NGO registration, and restricting the movement of aid agencies on the ground.
On October 7, the United Nations Security Council issued a unanimously endorsed statement urging Syria to grant immediate access to humanitarian agencies seeking to deliver life-saving assistance to those affected by the crisis. Minister of International Development has indicated the Government of Canada's strong support for this statement.
In all relevant international forums, Canada continues to call on all parties to the conflict to take immediate steps to facilitate the expansion of humanitarian relief operations and lift bureaucratic impediments and other obstacles. We know that the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is working closely with those countries that carry the most influence with parties to address these challenges.
The international community has mobilized on a massive scale. In 2013, the United Nations and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement have sought more than $4.5 billion U.S.
As the humanitarian crisis worsened and the international community mobilized, Canada expanded its response as needs increased. In 2012 Canada contributed $23.5 million to the humanitarian endeavours. We have increased our humanitarian contributions almost eightfold to $180 million in 2013. This brings Canada's contribution to date to $203.5 million in humanitarian funding. Canada is also providing $110 million in development assistance to Jordan and Lebanon. Canada is currently among the leading donors to the Syrian response.
Canada's approach has been to target key needs, particularly food, health, shelter, protection, education, water, and sanitation. As we move into the winter months, Canada is supporting the rollout of winterization activities throughout the region. We have taken a geographically balanced approach by supporting activities in the region and inside Syria. We are also supporting host communities in neighbouring countries to cope with the influx of refugees.
Our support has been delivered through experienced humanitarian partners and has achieved significant results. As an example, in 2013, partners have provided over 1.5 million refugees with food assistance, provided 1.25 million with hygiene support, supported a million visits to primary health care facilities, and enrolled 175,000 children in formal education.
In addition to calling for improved access for humanitarian actors in Syria and the protection of humanitarian space, the government has emphasized Canada's commitment to humanitarian principles. Minister was unequivocal in his speech at the Canadian Humanitarian Conference in October that Canada will continue to stress the impartiality, neutrality, and independence of its humanitarian partners.
Going forward, there will be a continuing need for large-scale humanitarian assistance. The United Nations appeals for the response inside Syria and in the region are set to be launched in mid-December. A significant increase in the resources requested is expected. The international community will gather in Kuwait on January 15, as it did last year, to pledge funds to support the response.
As the conflict drags on, the importance of humanitarian development assistance will remain imperative to sustain lives and mitigate the impact of the influx of refugees on host communities in neighbouring countries.
Mr. Chair and honourable members, I'm pleased to be before you today on a somewhat different matter than what I've been speaking to you about lately, namely, to talk about chemical weapons in Syria. It may be useful to provide you with a bit of a history of the issue.
As my colleagues have made clear in their statements, the security and humanitarian situation in Syria is grim, and has been ever since the start of the conflict in March 2011.
Syria has long been suspected of possessing a chemical weapons arsenal, believed to be a deterrent against Israel. In July 2012, Syria openly admitted that it possessed chemical and biological weapons, asserting that these could be used against “external aggression”.
As the fighting in Syria continued to escalate, the international community became increasingly concerned that the Assad regime might resort to using these abhorrent weapons against its own population, or that the instability in the country might permit them to fall into the hands of extremist groups who are more and more present in Syria.
The U.S. and other allies laid down firm red lines in the summer of 2012, warning the regime against the use of chemical weapons. Canada consulted closely with allies on contingency planning regarding possible responses to an eventual chemical weapons attack, although this was still seen as only a remote possibility at the time.
Canada stepped up its efforts and played a key role, with significant contributions in response to the chemical weapons threat in Syria. Through the global partnership program, the stabilization and reconstruction task force and the counter-terrorism capacity building program, Canada has contributed $47.5 million in security-related assistance to the region to address the conflict in Syria more broadly, including programs and equipment related to weapons of mass destruction threats, such as those posed to the region by a chemical or biological weapons attack in Syria.
Further, Canada contributed $2 million to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the OPCW, to enable it to be ready immediately to investigate CW, chemical weapons, use in Syria, should the need arise.
In March of this year, and despite red lines being drawn, allegations of CW use by the Syrian regime started to emerge. Throughout the spring, we received uncorroborated reports of small-scale attacks against opposition areas, with minimal casualties. The regime in turn claimed chemical weapons use by the opposition.
In light of the small-scale attacks, the UN Secretary General triggered, on March 21, a rarely used mechanism permitting him to launch an investigation into the alleged use of CWs in Syria, despite the fact that Syria was not, at that time, a state party to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction. The team was headed by the UN with participation by experts from the OPCW and the World Health Organization. Canada's financial contribution to the OPCW was key to the success of this UN-mandated investigation, a fact that was emphasized to us again just two days ago by the UN High Representative for Disarmament, Angela Kane, whom some of you may have met two nights ago.
The Syrian authorities initially blocked access to the UN investigation team on its territory, alleging difficult negotiations on the terms of reference of the mission. It was only on August 19 that the UN investigators were allowed into Syria. Two days after the team's arrival to investigate alleged CW use that had taken place in the spring, the mission was on the front lines to witness the deadliest of CW attacks in the Ghouta region on the outskirts of Damascus. According to U.S. estimates, this attack took the lives of over 1,400 people, including many women and children. The scale and abhorrent nature of the attack sparked tremendous outcry from the international community, and the UN investigation team immediately shifted its investigative focus to this attack. The availability of fresh evidence greatly assisted the team in its efforts.
The attack triggered a chain reaction of unprecedented diplomatic activity. The "red line" set by the U.S., Canada and other western allies having so obviously been crossed, the Syrian regime feared retribution and decided to surrender its CW arsenal. While the U.S. and Russia negotiated a framework agreement on the elimination of Syria's CW capability, the Syrian government submitted its letter of accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention. The U.S. and Russia joint framework agreement of September 14 laid out a detailed destruction plan for Syria's chemical weapons program, with very ambitious timelines. Unanimous decisions by the UN Security Council, in the form of Resolution 2118, on September 27, and by the OPCW Executive Council allowed an unprecedented joint UN-OPCW mission to eliminate the CW arsenal of Syria by June 30, 2014.
The ambition but also the risks associated with this initiative cannot be overstated. Never has the OPCW or any other body attempted to verify and inspect the destruction of chemical weapons in a conflict zone. The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the OPCW next week is both timely and deserved.
The UN-OPCW mission in Syria has made considerable progress thus far in implementing the U.S.-Russian framework agreement. Two of the three major phases of the destruction plan have been completed. The first and second phase consisted of the OPCW inspecting all 23 CW sites declared by the Syrian government and the destruction of all critical equipment in the production of chemical weapons at declared mixing and filling facilities, both by November 1. Only one facility remains uninspected due to the local security situation, but it is believed to have been previously abandoned and emptied of CW components by the regime who had moved those to the now declared sites.
The third phase will be the most difficult. It consists of removing the chemical agents from Syrian territory, despite and because of the ongoing civil war there, for destruction elsewhere. This will be done in two waves.
It is intended that the more critical CW agents be removed from Syria by December 31. These will be subject to a destruction process, known as hydrolysis, aboard a U.S.-commanded modified vessel outside Syrian territorial waters.
A second wave of chemical precursors of a less sensitive nature will be removed from Syria by February 5 and destroyed in a commercial facility at a location to be determined.
The OPCW has called on companies with the requisite expertise to submit an expression of interest in destroying the second wave of chemicals as well as the hydrolysate residues from the first wave.
At the closing of the submission period, 41 companies from around the world expressed an interest, including, to our knowledge, two Canadian companies. Evaluation of the proposals, selection, and follow-up with the chosen companies will be done, or has been done, by the OPCW technical secretariat.
Time is of the essence. The international community must act quickly if we are to meet the successive timelines necessary to destroy, once and for all, Syria's chemical weapons program.
The OPCW and the UN made pleas to the international community in October for more and necessary contributions. In October Canada responded to an urgent request to airlift 10 U.S. armoured vehicles for the secure transportation of the inspection teams. An Air Force Globemaster III did two trips from Maryland to Beirut to deliver those vehicles. Numerous other countries have also stepped up and made significant contributions.
However, the UN and the OPCW are in need of much more. The trust fund established to finance the complex operations is quickly depleting. There is a need as well for a large amount of in-kind contributions to complete the destruction phase. My department is currently considering options on how Canada could further contribute to the joint mission.
There is a risk perceived by some that by funding the destruction of CW in Syria, the international community may be aiding, if not legitimatizing, the Assad regime. We disagree.
It is in the best interest of the Syrian people, the region, and the entire world to ensure that these weapons cannot be used again against anyone. This is particularly the case when these weapons are being held by a state that has already demonstrated its willingness to use them.
Canada, along with the international community, is working to ensure that the Assad regime, or its potential successors, no longer have access to chemical weapons. That does not exculpate the Assad regime from having used such abhorrent weapons, and a variety of conventional weapons, against its own people.
Finally, once the immediate priority of dismantling and eliminating the CW program has been addressed, the international community will need to deal with the issue of accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the use of weapons long outlawed by civilized nations.
Indeed, I think the impact on children has been tremendous and is really a tragedy. I'll just quote some numbers.
Eleven thousand children have been reported as killed. These are identified children. These are children who have been killed by explosive devices and by weapons.
Five thousand of 22,000 schools in Syria are closed or damaged. Refugees leaving Syria have a challenge to access education, as you rightly point out, and 1.9 million of the 5.4 million children in Syria are out of school.
As you've suggested, there is a real possibility of a lost generation here. We're really concerned about that from the programming side, because we want to make sure our programming actually targets the special needs of this generation. We do that through a variety of approaches.
What we look for in our programming are organizations like UNICEF and Save the Children, which have a special mandate for that response and look at education as one element of the response, but also look at psychological counselling and support for unaccompanied children. As I mentioned, the number of unaccompanied children is quite large. We look to organizations that have these kinds of mandates and can put in place the psychological and medical services, and so on, the whole package of services that we would expect in Canada when we're dealing with children who are traumatized by violence, and so on.
There has been a study and there's an initiative under way right now by UNICEF that we're really following closely. We are speaking to them on a regular basis to try to understand how we can actually expand and respond to this lost generation issue. UNICEF has come out with a strategy that looks at the regional response and the regional issue and is trying to identify all the intervention points, be it education, be it medical services, and so on, that would allow the international community to come together and respond.
A lot of this, as I've mentioned, and as you've asked about, is in the region, as well as in Syria. In the region, much of the effort is being managed by UNHCR, which is the agency responsible for dealing with a refugee crisis. They of course are working with a range of actors, as well as the governments that are there. I should mention that they have been tremendously generous in their support and have been opening up their schools to children in the region, but of course they were already hard-pressed to respond to the needs of their own citizens, and to have this added pressure has certainly challenged them.
I think this UNICEF initiative that's looking at the lost generation and is coming up with quite a comprehensive plan is something that we're going to look at very closely. As we go forward in the coming weeks, that's how we're going to try to determine how to calibrate our response.
On a refugee issue, UNHCR is legally mandated, has the international mandate, to respond to refugee crises like this. They are one of our main partners, but we look at a range of partners that have expertise in these kinds of situations and that are tried and tested over time.
Within the UN family, we have the WFP, to which we have provided $50 million in food aid. Food aid is one of the main components of the response. UNHCR has received upwards of $27 million from us this current calendar year.
Perhaps I could walk you through the types of services they provide. I'm sure that you, having been in Jordan, have witnessed the support that Syrian refugees received in Jordan. I'm happy to share the response with you. The UNHCR will come in and register all refugees. They have a registration process. They will have a case management approach where they look at the requirements of each refugee and his or her family to determine how best to respond to them, looking at vulnerability criteria, for instance, to determine what is required, for example, education, food, income support, and those types of things. We take a social safety net approach to try to ensure that an adequate response is being shared with them.
There will also be a series of other local community groups, international NGOs, and the Red Cross. It's a concerted effort. Given the scope of the crisis and the fast pace of the crisis, we have actually broadened our support. Typically we look towards the UNHCR as our focal point for these kinds of responses.
In this case, because it was such a fast pace and the scope was so great, we had to broaden our support to a range of international NGOs, such as Save the Children, World Vision, CARE Canada, and Handicap International. They bring certain capacities to bear, certain special capacities.