Baird's visit to Syrian refugee camp shows increasing humanitarian effort
Published Friday, August 10, 2012 6:01AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, August 10, 2012 10:21PM EDT
Canada’s foreign affairs minister will tour a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan later this week as Canada prepares to dedicate itself to the humanitarian mission behind the brutal Syrian civil war.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird met with Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Friday, and praised him for accepting Syrian refugees into his country.
Baird and Mikati also spoke about their concern that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has amassed a large amount of chemical weapons.
"We share a deep concern over the risk posed to Syria's neighbours by the Assad regime's stockpile of chemical weapons," Baird said in a press release.
"It is now more important than ever that the international community act decisively and in unison to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis before instability and chaos spread throughout the region."
A bloody uprising has consumed Syria for the past 17 months as rebels in the country oppose the forces of Assad’s governing regime.
“The situation in Syria threatens the stability of the entire Middle East. As the fighting continues and atrocities multiply, the need for all countries to bring pressure to bear on the Assad regime is imperative,” said Baird in an earlier statement. “The situation grows increasingly difficult as refugees continue to flow over Syria's borders into neighbouring countries.”
Canada has joined much of the international community in demanding Assad step out of power and allow the country to begin a peace process. The ongoing battle between rebels and the military has forced tens of thousands to flee to neighbouring countries, including Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.
Baird’s staff announced Thursday that the tour would include a visit to the Za’atari refugee camp on the border of Jordan and Syria, where the minister will make an announcement underlining Canada’s support for refugees fleeing the civil war-torn Syria.
Jordan opened the refugee tent camp late last month to accommodate some of the 140,000 Syrians who have fled to the country amid the ongoing violence. Jordanian officials have said the population of the refugee camp has grown by up to 2,000 people daily.
CTV Middle East Bureau Chief Martin Seemungal said Baird will likely discuss how Canada can help the influx of refugees when he meets with officials in Jordan.
“These refugees have been coming in very quickly, sort of overwhelming authorities in Jordan,” Seemungal told CTV News Channel on Friday.
“That perhaps could be one of the things that the Canadian foreign minister is going to be discussing with the Jordanians – how better to ease the suffering and enhance the humanitarian aspect of the border between Jordan and Syria.”
Baird has previously called the escalating violence by the Assad regime “disgraceful,” and said there would be a “day of accountability” for the atrocities.
Baird has also said Canada is preparing for a post-Assad Syria but has not supported the idea of military intervention, similar to that which resulted in the ouster of Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi last year.
Seemungal said Canada has not offered any assistance directly to the rebel forces, while the U.S. and the U.K. are only now discussing ways to fund the rebels directly.
Seemungal said Canada and other nations have been hesitant to directly support the rebel group because they are an “unknown entity” at this point.
“A lot of these countries who in the past have been quick to step in to support the rebels are being a little cautious, given the fact that the rebels themselves are such a disparate group,” Seemungal said.
“There has been a lot of concern about Islamist extremist elements, al Qaeda elements and possibly a lot of foreign fighters that have infiltrated the rebel ranks.”
Since the Syrian uprising began in March, Canada has provided $8.5 million in aid to help the Syrian people and has said more support is possible, possibly in the form of medical assistance.
Carleton University’s Elliot Tepper said on Friday that Baird’s trip will help show Canada’s political support for the humanitarian efforts surrounding the Syrian crisis, while not intervening directly.
“He is expected to make, as they say, a significant announcement of humanitarian assistance,” Tepper told CTV News Channel.
“Canada already has $8.5 million committed to the region. This is a politically supported refugee and humanitarian mission; it is waving the Canadian flag.”
Canada has also been heavily critical of Russia for blocking the UN Security Council from imposing sanctions against the country.
Much of the fighting has occurred in recent weeks around the northern city of Aleppo. Rebel-held portions of the city have suffered artillery bombardment as the military moves to reclaim the region.