Situation in Syria (Q&A - Excerpt from the daily press briefing - October 9, 2012)
Q : Regarding the SNC, which will be there tomorrow to meet parliamentarians at the National Assembly, what’s your assessment of the SNC’s position within the opposition now, given that there have been a great deal of problems recently. Secondly, regarding Lakhdar Brahimi and his visit to the region this week, do you have a timetable for his visits to Damascus and Iran? What are you expecting from this visit?
A : This visit falls within the framework of the process to organize and unify the Syrian opposition which we support. It’s a step in the right direction.
France was one of the first countries to support the Syrian opposition. We are in regular contact with the members of the civilian opposition, with the SNC of course, but also with other groups. President Hollande was the first Western head of state to receive the president of the SNC, Mr. Sayda. The minister has received him several times. He also received other opposition members, including former Syrian Prime Minister Mr. Riyad Hijab, on September 19. Furthermore, I want to remind you that the representatives of the opposition based within the country and outside it participated in the Friends of the Syrian People conference in Paris on July 6.
In our exchanges we encourage the opposition members based within the country and outside it to unite and to consolidate their efforts. It’s critical to maintain a political momentum that will allow a democratic and stable Syria to emerge. President Hollande has on several occasions – notably to the UNGA on September 25 – underscored that we should now prepare for the post-conflict period, by calling for the formation of an inclusive and representative interim government that will ensure respect for the rights of all communities, a government that we will recognize once it has been formed.
A : Do you feel that we’re getting closer to this idea or that there’s still a long way to go?
Yes, obviously efforts are being made in this direction and the visit by the president of the SNC in Syria is clear proof of that. It’s also clear that this is a long process, because it involves bringing together different components of the opposition and it has to be representative of the diversity, the mosaic of communities that make up Syria.
A : It appears that France has granted political asylum to certain Syrian journalists who are apparently in the “maison des journalistes.” Do you confirm that?
There is a “maison des journalistes” which is indeed housing Syrian journalists who have moved to Paris. There are also other nationalities, but Syrian journalists in particular.
Regarding the applications for asylum and to give you some specific figures: in 2012, France received 281 applications for asylum from Syrian refugees; 231 applications were made to OFPRA (the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons); 50 visa applications were made by asylum seekers. So 281 applications in all. Regarding the applications made to OFPRA, the approval rate at this stage is 91% and 16 out of the 50 visa applications by asylum seekers have been approved.
It’s useful to compare these figures with those of the previous year, since there’s been a sharp increase in the number of applications for asylum. 100 applications were made to OFPRA in 2011; this figure has increased to 231. There were 9 visa applications by asylum seekers; this figure has increased to 50. It’s also useful to note the increase in the approval rate. In 2011, the approval rate was 67.9%. It is now 91%.
The process of granting or refusing asylum is a national process. But there are some aspects of asylum legislation that are harmonized between the EU states. The so-called Dublin Agreements established the principle whereby asylum applications are dealt with in the country of entry.
And a point about humanitarian assistance. French bilateral assistance now amounts to €10 million. To this we have to add France’s share of EU assistance, i.e. approximately 20 million (16.5% of 119 million). These funds are used to help international agencies, NGOs, local networks in Syria and in the host country.
A final point in order to be clear about the Zaatari camp in Jordan. The camp has now registered 33, 672 arrivals since it opened on July 29. This field hospital is highly specialized in war surgery and infectious diseases. At last count, our vaccination campaign has immunized 5,877 children under 15, in partnership with Morocco, the Jordanian health authorities, WHO and UNICEF. 1,342 consultations by general practitioners and 138 psychiatric consultations were carried out in the field hospital.