What's In Blue

Posted Wed 13 Nov 2019

Syria Humanitarian Briefing

Tomorrow (14 November), the Security Council will hold its monthly meeting on the humanitarian situation in Syria. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock is expected to brief the Council in the open chamber, while closed consultations are expected to follow.

Lowcock is likely to emphasise the importance of cross-border humanitarian aid for the welfare of the civilian population in Syria.  While the mandate for cross-border aid delivery expires on 10 January 2020, the Council is likely to vote on a resolution to reauthorise the delivery of such aid in December, in keeping with past practice. In this connection, in a statement at the conclusion of his 10-11 October visiting mission to Ankara and to the Turkey/Syria border, Lowcock said: “The humanitarian suffering—and the wider consequences—arising from a failure to renew the mandate for the UN cross border operation would be immense”.  He is likely to brief the Council on his visit, as he also noted in the statement: “I will in due course brief the Security Council in more detail on what I have found”.

Already in last month’s Syria humanitarian briefing to the Council on 24 October, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ursula Mueller said that it was critical that this authorisation be renewed. She noted that 1.1 million people had benefited from food aid delivered in September through the Bab Al-Hawa and Bab Al-Salam crossings with Turkey and that “(t)ens of thousands more have received other services and support, such as winter clothing, household items, clean water”. Several Council members echoed her call for the Council to reauthorise cross-border assistance.

The delivery of cross-border humanitarian aid was originally authorised through resolution 2165 in July 2014. It was renewed again in December 2014, and subsequently every December thereafter. This authorisation has allowed for the use of border crossings with notification to the Syrian authorities, and routes across conflict lines, in order to deliver humanitarian assistance. Over the years, UN actors and implementing partners have been able to deliver humanitarian assistance to millions of civilians through this mechanism.

The successive reauthorisations of cross-border aid have not been without controversy, however. In 2017, Russia, China and Bolivia abstained on this reauthorisation (S/RES/2393). Russia and China also abstained on resolution 2449, which renewed the authorisation for cross-border assistance in 2018. In explaining its vote in 2018, Russia said that it did not block the resolution because of “humanitarian considerations and appeals from our partners in the region”, but expressed concern that the resolution did not reflect that this mechanism eventually needed to be removed given “new realities” in Syria. Russia asked, for example, why the Dar’a-Ramtha crossing—which is on the Syria/Jordan border— should continue to be covered by the resolution when Syria had control of its side of the border. China, for its part, said in its explanation of vote that attention needed to be paid “to better coordination with the Syrian Government and [that] practical measures should be put in place to prevent aid supplies from falling into the hands of terrorist groups”.

Lowcock and Council members have long been concerned about the humanitarian situation in north-western Syria. Lowcock may emphasise that further fighting in Idlib, home to roughly three million people, could endanger and displace more civilians. Some members may reiterate calls for a permanent ceasefire there, as well as throughout Syria. Russia announced a unilateral ceasefire in the north-west on 30 August that was confirmed by Syria. This led to an overall reduction in violence, but some members may express alarm at the uptick in air strikes and shelling since last month.

Some of the briefing, and the ensuing interventions of Council members, is likely to focus on humanitarian developments in north-eastern Syria as well. Members may be interested in receiving from Lowcock the latest information on efforts by the UN and other organisations to provide humanitarian assistance in a dynamic security environment, where control of territory has changed hands and hundreds of thousands of people were displaced as a result of fighting in October.

There may also be some discussion of the situation in Al-Hol camp in north-eastern Syria, which is home to over 68,000 people. Many of the women and children in Al-Hol—who constitute about 94% of the camp’s population—come from families that are or were affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Lowcock may speak about efforts to address the worsening humanitarian conditions in the camp. He may also reiterate the need for member states to be responsible for their own nationals: some 10,000 camp inhabitants are not citizens of Syria or Iraq and many countries have been loath to repatriate their nationals who have ISIL ties.

Also tomorrow, a number of Council members may emphasise that any return of refugees to Syria must be safe, voluntary, and dignified. This was a point made by Secretary-General António Guterres during a meeting with Turkish President Recep Erdoğan in Istanbul on 1 November, when the latter shared a Turkish plan to resettle refugees who have been in Turkey. Guterres said that the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) would study the plan and discuss it with Turkish officials.

Finally, there may be discussion of the situation in Rukban camp, which sits on the Syria-Jordan border. In this connection, Lowcock could mention efforts to provide humanitarian assistance in the camp and to help those who would like to leave the camp.

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