Foreign Minister Shows France’s Support to Syrian Refugees
Statement by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs, on his arrival at Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport (excerpts)
Beirut, August 16, 2012
*Ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted to see you. I’m here in Lebanon for a quick visit I was keen to pay, on behalf of President François Hollande.
I’ve come from Jordan and I’ll go to Turkey next. The purpose of my presence here is quite simple. It’s a gesture of solidarity with Lebanon, which is a country we love. And it’s a declaration of our commitment to Lebanon’s unity, independence, integrity and sovereignty.
- Laurent Fabius and his Lebanese counterpart Adnan Mansour
Lebanon, like other countries in the region, is experiencing difficulties. It’s essential in these circumstances – the Syrian crisis – for Lebanon’s integrity, unity and sovereignty should be guaranteed. And that’s the purpose of my presence here. I’m going to be welcomed by the highest Lebanese authorities, and I thank them for it. I’ll also be having meetings with a whole series of people. But I’m here as a friend of Lebanon, and I’d like this friendship, which has already lasted a long time, to be further strengthened in the coming months. (…)
I’ll have the opportunity to mention Syria, of course, with all my Lebanese interlocutors and in all its aspects. The humanitarian aspect is crucial because many Syrians are now being chased out of Syria and taking refuge in the neighbouring countries.
This raises a number of humanitarian issues that must be dealt with. I discussed them in Jordan. We’ll talk about them here in Lebanon, then in Turkey. It also raises strictly military issues: that’s a matter for the Syrians. There’s a Syrian resistance organizing itself. And it also raises political issues because, if people want the current regime to be replaced, there must be a political transition. Many discussions are taking place at the moment with the Arab countries and between different powers, to help bring about this transition. The decision is up to the Syrians themselves.
What I’d like, of course, is for us to have a free, democratic Syria that protects – this is the key thing – all the communities. All the communities must be able to live freely in Syria, which isn’t the case today.
Press conference given by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs (excerpts)
Beirut, 17 August 2012
Q. – What French aid is being provided to the Syrian refugees? Can the creation of camps for the refugees be envisaged?
THE MINISTER – It’s different each time, as you emphasize in your question. I’m going to go to Turkey, so I’ll see exactly what’s being done on the ground. In Jordan, the camp I visited is located in a place that isn’t easy – the Jordanian authorities themselves agreed about that –, where there are many sandstorms and which is difficult to access. (…)
Here the set-up chosen by the Lebanese authorities is different. The difficulty for the Lebanese government – bearing in mind the geography and political situation – is to try and gather people together in less huge numbers. But it isn’t easy to organize. Obviously, if the Syrian tragedy were to continue in future and there were a massive influx of refugees as a result, you can see it would present problems.
The case of the Palestinians must also be mentioned, because given history and a whole set of circumstances it’s not desirable for there to be any established Palestinian camps in the traditional sense of the term. It clearly demands very specific follow-up. The Prime Minister is taking personal charge of this. There’s what is called here “contingency planning”. It’s all supervised entirely methodically, but it clearly presents a lot of difficulties, and the people I spoke to stressed the financial difficulties in particular, because when you have to treat people who have been wounded, or quite simply a large number of people who have been hospitalized, how do you look after them in the long term? A whole set of resources have been mobilized and others are due to be. This is an aspect we intend to discuss at the United Nations meeting.
Turkey is proceeding differently, and I’ll have an opportunity to see this during my visit to that country. What matters is that the principles of humanitarian aid – those of human rights – should be respected every time, and that the refugees should be received in the least bad, or the best way possible, and that at the same time local people shouldn’t be destabilized by these influxes, which obviously raise considerable difficulties.
France’s overall aid on the humanitarian front is a bit more than €14 million when you add what’s being done at (…) humanitarian level for Syria, which is being done in every country and through our contribution to Europe. We’ve decided on an additional contribution to the Higher Relief Council. But we’re looking at as much as about €15 million.
Q. – Do you have any reaction after several Syrians were taken hostage here in Lebanon?
THE MINISTER – Of course: grave concern. And the position taken by the Lebanese leaders I met – I very strongly agree with it – is to ensure there’s as little contagion as possible between what’s happening, tragically, in Syria and the situation in Lebanon. The events taking place over the past few days, and again in the past few hours, unfortunately encourage that contagion. One can only hope for the release of all those who, in very different circumstances, have been taken hostage, and hope the crisis in Syria doesn’t lead to an extremely tense situation here. On this point, all the leaders I met confirmed to me this view of things.
Q. – What’s your message to the representatives of the Syrian opposition?
THE MINISTER – Above all, I listened to them, as I also do when I’m in France. They explained the situation and I had the opportunity to inform them of the position of the Europeans and the French.
Q. – Do you have any reaction to the end of UNSMIS [United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria]? Will it lead to an escalation on the ground?
THE MINISTER – The mission of Kofi Annan and the observers has indeed ended, because unfortunately those observers couldn’t fulfil their mission. There ought to be a political presence maintained in Syria, in another form – there’s talk of a political bureau and an official who would be appointed so that contact could be maintained. But this official won’t have the same role as that of the previous mission because, sadly, it failed. If the same mission were renewed, we’d get the same results, but it’s a product of Syria’s very serious situation.
Q. – Do you fear the repercussions of the Syrian crisis in Lebanon?
THE MINISTER – I’ve just said that this is what absolutely must be avoided, because the situation in Syria is extremely serious, with conflicts building up. There’s a risk of sectarian war with hundreds of deaths every day. We have to do everything to ensure that Lebanon remains isolated from this contagion.
Q. – Where did you get information about spectacular defections? What will they be?
THE MINISTER – In the past few weeks there have been some very important defections. Let me mention two or three. The latest one to date is the defection of Mr Bashar al-Assad’s prime minister. And the prime minister isn’t just anybody – I’m not saying this because I’ve been prime minister myself –, he’s somebody who obviously has knowledge of how everything works. And what’s important – I’m talking about the prime minister who was welcomed in Jordan – is what he said: that Mr Bashar al-Assad’s government controls no more – I believe – than a third of the territory; he also provided a number of details which show the extent to which the regime is increasing the number of atrocities and becoming weaker within. But there are other defections, of generals in particular; they’re happening continually. I can confirm that I thought I could say these defections are going to continue in the days to come. We mustn’t anticipate what you’ll probably hear in the next few days.
Q. – Are they civilians or soldiers?
THE MINISTER – I’ve said enough.
Q. – Have you had talks with the leaders of Amal and Hezbollah?
THE MINISTER – (…) No.
Q. – Are you in favour of changing UNIFIL’s mandate?
THE MINISTER – France is committed alongside the United Nations in the framework of UNSCR 1701, with UNIFIL. We have a lot of troops mobilized by this extremely difficult and, as you know, also dangerous task. I want to pay tribute to them, because they’re doing an exceptional job. The French President has pledged to maintain our UNIFIL troops because they’re playing an absolutely essential role in the south of the country, given the way things stand geographically and politically, in the framework of UNSCR 1701.
Now, if other options had to be studied it would be a completely different issue and it can’t be done in the framework of that force; this in itself is a different problem./.
Statements by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs, at his joint press conference with Mr Nasser Judeh, Jordanian Minister of Foreign Affairs
Zaatari camp, August 16, 2012
THE MINISTER – First of all I’d like to thank very warmly my colleague and friend Nasser Judeh for his welcome. I’d like to pass on to His Majesty, whom I’ll be meeting in a few hours’ time, the greetings of M. François Hollande, and also greet the Moroccan general who has been kind enough to be here, because what we see this morning is a sign of cooperation between Jordan and France, but also with Morocco, who is making similar efforts.
The purpose of my visit here is to say France is showing solidarity in three ways. First of all, we’re showing solidarity to the refugees, of course. We’re in a camp. The conditions in this camp are very tough, as conditions in refugee camps are. Today, just for once, there’s no sandstorm, but every day the people living here feel the scorching earth; the buildings are temporary, of course, and tents have been set up as well as possible, but it’s all still extremely makeshift.
France’s efforts, like those of other countries, consist in providing support to the refugees. That’s what we’re doing here in several ways. There is, of course, the surgical hospital that’s just been built. So things are getting under way. I want to congratulate the authorities, the men and women on the ground.
- Laurent Fabius and his Jordanian counterpart Nasser Judeh
There’s what we’re doing day after day. For example, today I’m bringing about 20,000 masks which will prevent sand from entering the throat, ears and nose. There are the vaccination campaigns; as you’ve seen, there are a lot of children in the camp. And so there are vaccinations against measles.
Because there are a lot of young people, the intention is of course to open schools, which is going to be necessary.
France is actively involved, financially and practically, in all this humanitarian work, and not only with regard to the refugees, who already number several thousand, but also with regard to the Syrians who are themselves in Syria.
The first gesture is a gesture of solidarity with the refugees. The second gesture of solidarity is with the Syrian people.
France’s position is clear: we think that Bashar al-Assad is the executioner of his own people, that he must go, the sooner the better, and that political efforts must be made – I’ll get onto this in a moment –, military efforts, as the resistance is making on the ground, and humanitarian efforts. The two types of effort aren’t contradictory. All this is complementary and we’re helping the Syrian people, particularly the opposition, especially through local networks, be they doctors’ or other networks. There are also other, obviously secret efforts.
And we can also count on the solidarity of the countries like Jordan that are being generous enough to take in refugees. Jordan is a small country with a big heart. When you see nearly 150,000 people arriving on her soil, arriving in a camp like this which is receiving hundreds more people every day, it’s an extremely major effort for a people like the Jordanian people, who are not very rich, to sustain. And I want to pay tribute to what the Jordanian people are doing – like other people in other circumstances, in Lebanon, Turkey and elsewhere – because this is an extraordinarily laudable effort, and I’d like to express the Foreign Minister’s solidarity with His Majesty King Abdullah II and with Jordan.
So my first job is to pay a humanitarian visit. President François Hollande wanted us to be very active in the humanitarian sphere; we are, and if there are any adaptations to be made in the future, if there are any extra efforts to be made, we’ll make them. But at the same time, of course, as I’ve emphasized, you can’t separate humanitarian action from political action.
SYRIA/TRANSITION/DIPLOMACY/HELP TO REBELS
We’re being very active at international level, to urge the Syrians to reach a political transition. Only yesterday, I met a representative of the Syrian National Council in Paris; I’ll be meeting representatives of the Syrian National Council in Paris next Tuesday; I’m obviously meeting other leaders of the Syrian opposition; we’re in permanent contact with our American, Turkish, German, British and Arab partners to facilitate this political transition, and I stress that the faster the political transition is carried out, the faster there’ll be a solution.
I stress that this political transition must be a transition that brings together the broad spectrum of the Syrian people, guarantees the rights of minorities – that’s crucial – and is representative of what Syria is today. We’d very much like a transitional government to be put in place quickly which, as soon as it’s representative, will be recognized by the main countries in the world and will make it possible to speed up the fall of Bashar al-Assad, which has become an obvious necessity.
There is of course the military aspect. You and I understand it and there’s no need to drop hints about it: refugees in this camp are calling for weapons to be delivered, in particular to fight Bashar al-Assad’s planes, which are imposing a reign of terror and killing dozens of people every day.
As you know, the European countries have decided on an arms embargo, and we’re not going to violate the embargo. But it’s no secret that a number of countries are supplying non-lethal equipment, communication and technical equipment that will be useful to the Syrian opposition and the resistance.
That’s what I wanted to tell you regarding my visit here.
In a few hours’ time I’ll be in Amman; I’ll meet Syrian opposition figures. Then I’m returning to Lebanon, which is also in a difficult situation, and I’ll end this humanitarian and political visit in Turkey, where I’ll also visit a refugee camp and the country’s leaders. I’ll then provide a report on all this to the United Nations Security Council on 30 August, because France is president of the UN Security Council, and I’ll also be in the chair myself; we’ll devote a large part of this Security Council meeting to the humanitarian aspects.
I’d like to finish by very warmly thanking all the organizations that are doing magnificent work under very difficult conditions, be they the UNHCR, the various UN programmes or non-governmental organizations; a lot of them are present here. We’re helping them, of course; that’s only natural; when I say “we”, I mean the French, the Europeans and others. But I think the exceptional work they’re doing under very difficult conditions has to be appreciated.
I’ll have the opportunity during this UN Security Council meeting to ask my friend Mr António Guterres, the [UN High] Commissioner for Refugees, and our representative to prepare a report on the situation. We’ll discuss additional solutions, because we’d obviously like this kind of camp to be dismantled as quickly as possible. But a political solution is necessary on the ground in Syria, a change is needed, and the sooner the better. The political, military and humanitarian spheres aren’t contradictory in these circumstances; we need to do all this at the same time; that’s the message I wanted to send this morning, while thanking the Jordanian authorities very much for their welcome. I’m now at your disposal to answer your questions.
Q. – France is going to chair the United Nations Security Council. What message are you going to send the UN? Is it a political, diplomatic message? What’s the message?
THE MINISTER – First of all there’s the current humanitarian message, given the terror, the atrocities being carried out by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, because there are a lot of refugees, a lot of displaced people – more than a million displaced people in Syria and several hundred thousand refugees – and in order to take them in, humanitarian operations must be put in place.
So the simple answer to your question is this: the first message I must send my colleagues is to report what’s being done at military level, then at humanitarian level, and then at political level.
At political level, the message is the necessity of a swift political transition – i.e. the creation of an alternative unity government enabling Bashar al-Assad’s regime to be replaced – and to that end we’re in contact with a whole series of leaders. The decision is up to the Syrians themselves, nobody else, but it’s clear that the efforts made by the Arab League, Europe and other countries in the world are in support of a political transition which, I repeat once again, must respect all the minorities. Syria is a country of many components: you have Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, and each community must be respected in this political transition. We, France, would like the future transitional government to represent Syria’s diversity.
Secondly, and finally, there’s what’s being done militarily. The new Syrian army is doing an extremely brave job under very difficult conditions, because its weaponry isn’t at the same level as Bashar al-Assad’s weaponry, but you’ve seen that there’s been an extremely large number of defections from the Bashar al-Assad camp. The latest is that of the former Syrian prime minister, which means the very heart of the system is in the process of weakening. And we, who respect our international obligations, support these efforts to ensure an alternative is very quickly provided to Bashar al-Assad’s regime. So I say and I repeat: the special UN commission has just declared him guilty of crimes against humanity.
Q. – You spoke about support for the Syrian opposition; what sort of support? Will there be military support?
THE MINISTER – As regards the Syrian opposition – the Free Syrian Army in particular – we’re in contact with a number of its leaders; we’d like it to be able to act, working in liaison with the opposition. As I said, there are no lethal weapons deliveries from European countries, particularly France, since we’ve committed to comply with an arms embargo. But a number of other operations are being conducted.
Besides, our action is political above all, since we’re trying to get maximum support for Syrians, because this concerns all Syrians, so they can take control of their destiny and very quickly build this alternative government, this transitional government which will subsequently lead to elections forming the basis of the new Syrian regime.
Once again, let me stress – and I do so to the Syrian National Council and the new Syrian army and also other leaders: we set great store by all minorities and all sensibilities being respected in this future regime.
Q. – [In English:] You mentioned sending non-lethal aid to the rebels. Is one of the reasons you say you don’t want to send armaments themselves, is one of the reasons for that because there have been some groups of the Free Syrian Army allied to global jihad? Is that one of the concerns for French involvement when it comes to arming the rebels?
THE MINISTER – The question is about why we aren’t sending lethal weapons to the rebels and whether it’s because we aren’t sure about the make-up of the new Syrian army. No, that isn’t the reason; all the European countries – not just them – have committed to an embargo on lethal weapons. It was decided broadly and we’ve got to respect that decision.
As regards non-lethal equipment, we can certainly take a different approach; I haven’t explained it at length here, the discussions must remain secret, but we’re complying with the embargo by which we’re bound, and at the same time we’re doing our utmost to help the Syrian resistance. That’s the first point I wanted to highlight.
The second point is that there’s been talk in the past few days of a possible no-fly zone. I want to say on this point that, given the seriousness of the conflict and the fact that it’s growing, with thousands and thousands more refugees every day, no one can rule out any possibility. At the same time, given both the materiel available to the current Syrian army – Bashar al-Assad’s – and the terrain, there are obviously extremely formidable difficulties. What’s more – and this is no small thing – France’s approach has always been to intervene only within the framework of international law as recognized and upheld by the international bodies, beginning with the United Nations. To date, there’s been no decision from the United Nations authorizing this kind of plan because, in particular, as you know, the Russians and Chinese have used their veto. So there you have a few points I wanted to talk about in answer to your question./.