Madam Chair, tonight we are discussing the quite pressing situation in Syria, which seems to be getting worse by the day.
I would like to talk about the humanitarian situation in this country and in neighbouring countries, because this type of conflict always has repercussions on such countries. With the surge in violence in Syria, it appears that the humanitarian situation is on the same path as the civilians who are fighting for their survival.
According to a report issued on March 29 by the United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, at least one million Syrians are in need of humanitarian aid. Given the events that have taken place in Syria over the past 14 months, one may suppose, without great fear of being mistaken, that the number of Syrians who are in need of humanitarian aid has increased. The report also indicates that protection, food, medical assistance, non-food items—such as bedding and essential items—and education are among the top priorities.
The Annan peace plan, which was agreed to by both sides in this conflict in March, included a point that specifically spoke to the humanitarian situation on the ground. It stated that all parties were to “ensure timely provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas affected by the fighting, and to this end, as immediate steps, to accept and implement a daily two hour humanitarian pause and to coordinate exact time and modalities of the daily pause through an efficient mechanism, including at local level...”.
If the estimate I just mentioned is correct, we can still easily see the extreme importance of delivering that assistance as quickly and effectively as possible. Under the peace plan, there was only that two hour daily period to work with, which is obviously not ideal, but, if implemented properly, it would have allowed for the much needed supplies to get to those civilians in need. We cannot reasonably expect humanitarian aid to be delivered to those who need it if we do not ensure that the humanitarian corridors exist.
This is a point that our government must insist on at the United Nations. Our government also needs to push nations, like Russia and China that have been supportive of the Assad regime in the past, to pressure the regime to ensure that these humanitarian corridors are in place and safe. Without these corridors, it is very difficult to help those civilians in need in this crisis.
Unfortunately, it appears that the Annan plan is slowly falling apart at the seams. Based on what we have learned from a number of reports, Syria has been delaying the humanitarian assistance so desperately needed by the population. According to these reports, the Assad regime interrupted discussions on humanitarian aid because it demanded that an official Syrian organization be in charge of the delivery of humanitarian assistance. It is my understanding that the United Nations also asked to be in charge and wanted to be kept abreast of who was receiving humanitarian aid.
The United Nations' request was very reasonable and was consistent with what normally occurs in this kind of desperate situation. It is not reasonable to force civilians to seek basic humanitarian aid from the people who are shooting at them.
Many governments have offered assistance to people in need in this crisis. Turkey, Jordan, Libya and Iraq—neighbouring countries—have taken in Syrian refugees. The United Nations estimates that there are over 56,000 Syrian refugees registered in these countries, but the exact figure is probably even higher, because tens of thousands of people are not registered. It is estimated that, to date, Turkey alone has invested over $150 million in refugee camps. A number of nations have rallied and are bearing this heavy burden. They must be thanked for the work that they have done to date and the work that they will undoubtedly do over the upcoming weeks.
Other major countries have also contributed assistance. For example, the United States recently provided Syria with additional humanitarian assistance to the tune of $6.5 million, bringing the total amount of its emergency assistance to about $40 million. Through CIDA, Canada is providing assistance in the amount of $7.5 million, which includes the funds already announced by the government. Many other countries have also taken steps to come to the assistance of those in need.
Despite everything that has been done to date, the need in Syria remains great and the conflict still rages on. The question is this: what more can the international community in general, and Canada in particular, do about the humanitarian crisis in Syria? The answer to that question is complicated and there is no simple solution, we agree. Sending assistance to the communities most devastated by the conflict has been difficult and hazardous. In March, the Red Cross and Red Crescent finally managed to reach some of the most severely affected areas, such as Homs, Aleppo and Idilb. They provided emergency medical help and distributed thousands of food parcels, blankets and other items. However, although they succeeded in reaching those communities, others remain inaccessible and are still in need of assistance. It is largely for that reason that access to humanitarian assistance at all times is so critical; it is also for that reason that Canada should demand that such access be granted.
As I have already mentioned, Canada is delivering $7.5 million in humanitarian aid to Syria. This is happening despite the fact that CIDA does not maintain a bilateral aid program in Syria. Most Canadian assistance to Syria is provided through CIDA's annual contributions to multilateral partners, such as the World Food Programme and UNESCO. With this being the case, Canada can help the humanitarian cause in Syria by providing additional funding to these partners and other trusted NGOs. Canada could step forward by offering new funds for this humanitarian crisis, just as many other nations have.
Canada could also take innovative steps to increase its aid to the region, or consider measures taken previously under different circumstances, such as natural disasters. The government could match funds invested by reputable Canadian charities that are doing humanitarian work to help Syrians. That is what the government did when the tsunami devastated South-East Asia in 2004, and Canadians across the country donated $132 million more as a result. Similarly, after the earthquake in Haiti, Canadians donated nearly $129 million, which the government matched.
Those two examples illustrate how great things can be achieved when Canadians join forces to help others. Canada has never adopted such an approach in a case of armed conflict, but this could be a novel idea that would really help people in need. Reputable organizations like Red Cross and Red Crescent are already on the ground in Syria distributing aid. Canadians know and trust these organizations.
As mentioned, the government matched donations to Red Cross and Red Crescent following the tsunami in South-East Asia and the earthquake in Haiti to help those organizations carry out badly needed humanitarian work. I think it makes sense for us to ask ourselves whether we can do the same thing now for Syria.
In closing, I realize that this idea could raise issues and concerns that might prevent its execution. This may not be the best solution, but this example could point us to another solution. If this idea is feasible, it would be another way for us to provide international aid in situations like this one.
Tonight we all have had a great deal to say about this humanitarian crisis that is unfolding before our very eyes in Syria. Members of all parties in this House have brought forward their ideas, views and suggestions of how we can help. I have appreciated hearing what my colleagues have offered to this debate. I believe that we have a lot of good ideas in this place tonight to help us move forward.