Reports of large flows of refugees came as early as 2011. They have increased dramatically since then. In mid-2016, an estimated 6.5 million Syrians were displaced within the country and almost 5 million in other countries. Of those who leave Syria, most end up in neighboring countries, especially in Turkey and Lebanon. About one million refugees have managed to seek asylum in Europe.
Attempts to negotiate
Several attempts have been made to resolve the conflict peacefully. In February 2012, the former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, was appointed UN and the Arab League’s Special Envoy to Syria. He drafted a peace plan that was accepted by both the government and the opposition, but the violence continued. Another was succeeded by Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, who also mediated between the government and the opposition without success.
The Swedish-Italian diplomat Staffan de Mistura was appointed in July 2014 as the UN’s new envoy. In early 2016, negotiations were held in Geneva. The negotiations led to parts of the opposition concluding a ceasefire with the government while agreeing to continue the fighting against IS and Jabhat al-Nusra.
The reactions of the outside world
In August 2011, several high-ranking leaders harshly condemned the situation in Syria and called on Assad to resign. The Arab League shut down Syria the same year. Several actors, including the United States and the European Union, have imposed sanctions on Syria.
Many votes have been raised for the UN to intervene, but both China and Russia, which have a veto in the Security Council, have stopped several resolutions. In doing so, they have blocked the Security Council’s attempt to do something about the situation in the country.
A major debate has been about whether to arm the rebels, and about the risks that the weapons will end up with the extremists rather than with the secular rebels. Qatar is probably the one that sent the most weapons to the rebels, and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also support the campaign against Assad. The United States has also armed and trained secular rebels.
As a result of IS’s progress in both Syria and neighboring Iraq, the United States and a coalition of other countries decided to bomb the group. Initially, this offensive was focused on IS targets in Iraq, but then came to include bombers in Syria.
In the autumn of 2015, two important countries got involved in the fighting in Syria in a new way. Russia decided to support the Assad regime with air support and Iran sent hundreds of troops to lead the Syrian army and its allies. The support from the two countries led to Assad regaining control of several important areas in the country.
Sweden and Syria
Sweden established diplomatic relations with Syria shortly after independence in 1946 and has had an embassy in Damascus since 1974. Syria opened an embassy in Stockholm in 2001. Due to the deteriorating security situation in Syria, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs decided on March 29, 2012, to reduce operations and staff at the Swedish Embassy in Damascus for the time being. Due to the development, the embassy in Damascus is not continuously staffed and operations are conducted in Beirut.
The unrest in Syria began in March 2011 when protesters trying to express their displeasure with the Syrian regime were brutally crushed. The conflict has since developed into a war that has caused more than 250,000 deaths, about 6.5 million internally displaced people and forced more than 4 million people to leave the country. Most refugees are in Syria’s neighbors Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. Some have applied to Europe and Sweden.
Sweden condemns the Assad regime’s brutal violence against its own population, and the terrorist organization ISIL’s ruthless violence in Syria and Iraq. Sweden supports the UN’s difficult work for a political solution to the conflict in Syria and calls on all parties to the conflict to comply with international humanitarian law.
The humanitarian situation in Syria is deeply serious and the need for action is great. Sweden has been a major humanitarian donor to Syria for several years and will continue to be so. Since the conflict broke out in 2011, Sweden has contributed more than SEK 1.9 billion to humanitarian efforts in Syria and its neighboring countries, which are hard hit by the Syrian conflict, mainly Lebanon and Jordan. In addition to this, Sweden has also contributed a total of SEK 345 million in other development assistance, among other things to give the Syrian population and refugees in neighboring countries access to basic community services such as water, electricity and education. Sweden will also continue to review the possibility of providing additional support.