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UNDER SECRETARY ZEYA:  On behalf of the United States, I thank the European Union for organizing this important pledging conference to support Syrians who have suffered on an unthinkable scale.

I am here to underscore the United States’ unwavering commitment to the Syria response and Syrian people.  Today, I am pleased to announce the United States will provide over $920 million in new humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people.  We are proud to be the largest donor to the Syrian humanitarian response, and we ask others to join us by showing the greatest possible generosity.

Syria holds a special place in my heart, having served as the human rights officer at our Embassy in Damascus in the 1990s.  For decades, Syrians have suffered under the Assad-family dictatorship and put their lives on the line to seek an inclusive and peaceful society.  The regime’s brutal response to a peaceful, youth-driven movement to exercise Syrians’ universal human rights devastated the country.  Twelve years later, I am appalled most of the Syrian population cannot meet their basic needs, and millions remain displaced.

The February earthquakes in northern Syria and southern Turkiye added a “crisis on a crisis,” exacerbating an already dire humanitarian and human rights situation.  Needs are greater than ever, everywhere-from al-Hol to Zaatari.  We applaud contributions from donors and welcome new pledges.  Nonetheless, more international support is needed to help the Syrian people, and to ensure that Syrian civil society remains viable and strong.

The Assad regime’s atrocities, some rising to the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity, are simply horrific.  The United States will not normalize relations with the Assad regime, nor we will support other countries normalizing relations, until there is authentic progress toward a political solution.  We urge any state considering engagement with the regime to consider the innumerable atrocities it has – and continues to – commit.  Those engaging the regime should also consider how they can improve the humanitarian situation in all areas of Syria.

Given the mounting needs in Syria, it is vital the UN Security Council re-authorize UN cross-border aid into Syria next month.  Recent consent for the UN to temporarily use two additional crossings was welcome – but access must be permanent.  That is why the United States is seeking a 12-month reauthorization covering all three crossings.

I also want to highlight the urgency of the situation at Al-Hol.  We all need to improve assistance and speed up voluntary repatriations and returns.  This requires collective action, and I encourage partners to consider how you can engage now.

In neighboring countries, economic challenges strain Syrian refugees and their hosts, all of whom require continued support.  I visited Jordan in February and witnessed Jordan’s tremendous generosity towards Syrian refugees and commitment to hosting them.  Syrians have not had the same reception in other places, where anti-refugee rhetoric and political scapegoating of refugees are rising.  And increasingly, Syrians are forced to make the choice between a dangerous journey to a third country or a coerced or even more perilous return to Syria.

I want to underscore U.S. policy on refugee returns has not changed.  Conditions inside Syria are not conducive to safe, voluntary, dignified, and sustainable returns, and it is of paramount importance that the principle of non-refoulement be respected.  It is vital that Damascus change the conditions on the ground so refugees may return.  Those who are engaging with the regime should make this point clearly.

We will continue promoting respect for human rights of all Syrians and support Syrian civil society.  We also support the creation of a new UN entity to address missing persons, as called for by the Secretary-General, and we are working with partners to create this in the UN General Assembly.

Above all, we must maintain our shared commitment to a political solution to the Syrian crisis in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254.  The resolution’s pillars of a lasting ceasefire, a safe environment for all, free and fair elections, and inclusive governance – are as necessary today as ever.  They were the aspirations of Syrians I knew in Damascus 25 years ago, and they persist today.  Millions of forcibly displaced Syrians are not giving up on this vision of a better and more just Syria – and neither will the United States.

Thank you.

U.S. Department of State

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