Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria in 2011, Switzerland has implemented the largest humanitarian programme in its history. Switzerland is committed to promoting respect for international law in Syria and supports the UN peace process.
On 14 October 2020 the Federal Council adopted a specific strategy for the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA Strategy) for the 2021–24 period. It identifies five thematic priorities: peace, security and human rights; migration and protection of people in need; sustainable development; economic affairs, finance, science; and digitalisation and new technologies.
These priorities are weighted differently across the various regions and countries. Switzerland's three priority thematic areas for the Middle East region are armed or political conflicts, economic development and governance. Switzerland is also addressing the needs of young people by promoting the development of vocational training, thus facilitating access to the labour market.
Switzerland's priorities in Syria
The MENA Strategy 2021–24 identifies the following priorities for Switzerland in Syria:
1. Peace, security and human rights
As host state, Switzerland supports the UN peace process in Geneva, ensuring the participation of civil society. It promotes initiatives to ease the plight of detainees and to find missing persons. It advocates respect for international law (e.g., by calling on the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism) and works within the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to eliminate chemical weapons in Syria. It is actively involved in helping prevent violent extremism (including jihadism).
2. Migration and protection of people in need
Switzerland works to help people in need, protect the civilian population, cover basic needs and ensure access to core services.
Since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis in 2011, Switzerland has provided more than CHF 520 million (as of the start of 2021) in humanitarian aid and to efforts to strengthen the resilience of people in need. Switzerland supports initiatives to assist and provide services to communities affected by violence, who are in need of protection. It actively contributes to promoting peace and preventing armed conflict. It is also working to encourage sustainable water management, high-quality education, and income opportunities for refugees, IDPs, vulnerable migrants and host communities not only in Syria, but also in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.
3. Sustainable development
Switzerland is committed to increasing communities' resilience to reduce their dependence on humanitarian aid.
History of bilateral relations
Relations between Switzerland and Syria developed centuries ago. Indeed, the Silk Road, which passes through Syria, connected Europe with the Near East, Middle East and Far East. In the 19th century, textile and chemical exports to Syria and textile imports from Syria boosted trade. Swiss traders established themselves in Aleppo, a trade hub between East and West.
Syria gained independence in 1941, and Switzerland recognised the new republic in 1945. A chancery represented Switzerland in Damascus between 1946 and 1958, followed by a consulate general that became an embassy in 1962.
The Swiss embassy in Damascus was closed in 2012 for security reasons. Switzerland has had a humanitarian presence in Damascus since December 2017, through an office that coordinates Swiss humanitarian activities in Syria.