No fly-zone over Idlib necessary first step to end escalation of violence

Image: Art work by Ammar Bouidani in response of the attacks on 10 schools in Idlib province on 25 february #SaveIdlib #IdlibUnderFire

March 4, 2020

Friday march 6th European foreign ministers will meet for an emergency meeting on Idlib. Around a million people in Northwest Syria are on the run for the military offensive by the Assad regime supported by Russia. They are trapped because the Turkish border is closed.

Civilian infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and markets have been systematically targeted. Turkey has intervened to stop the offensive. The humanitarian impact of the escalation of violence is enormous and the needs are in no way met. People struggle to find shelter and children have died from the cold.

No fly-zone

This escalation of violence has to be stopped and civilians have to be protected and find relief. To that background, the call of Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok for a no fly zone is a brave and welcome first step to break the current dynamics and provide relief to the people in Northwest Syria. The proposal is a logical next step after the statement issued by 13 ministers of Foreign Affairs of European countries, including minister Blok, on Russia to stop the humanitarian disaster in Idlib. We call on EU member states to politically support this initiative and seriously engage with all relevant parties to bring it to reality.

At the same time, a no fly zone may be an important first step but is not a long-term strategy. It is crucial that the momentum created by such an initiative is used to force the fighting parties back to the negotiating table and find long-term political agreements that provide for the protection of civilians. The EU and members states should use their full diplomatic weight to bring all fighting parties back to the negotiating table.

Around half of the people trapped in Idlib have already been displaced multiple times. They have been victims of forced displacement which is not only a consequence of military clashes, but also used as a war strategy.

On the emergency meeting of EU Foreign Ministers this, PAX recommends the following:

  1. Support the no fly zone proposal by the Dutch government politically, take diplomatic steps to implement it
  2. The EU and member states must use all diplomatic means possible to bring the fighting parties back to the negotiation table.
  3. The EU and member states must use all diplomatic means possible to ensure that people in danger in Idlib have the right to flee to safety and negotiate with Turkey the right of Syrians to seek refuge in Turkey.
  4. The EU should ensure increased humanitarian funding to North West Syria, including increased funding to local organizations active in relief efforts.
  5. Member states should develop a medium to long-term EU strategy to end the conflict in Syria and to bring justice to the people of Syria.

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