What's In Blue

Posted Fri 2 Jul 2021

Closed Consultations on the Humanitarian Situation in Syria

On Tuesday (6 July), Council members will hold closed consultations on the humanitarian situation in Syria. Ramesh Rajasingham, Acting Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator will brief. The meeting is likely to be the last meeting on the humanitarian situation in Syria before a vote, scheduled for 8 July, on the renewal of the cross-border humanitarian aid delivery mechanism authorised under resolution 2533 of 11 July 2020.

Tuesday’s meeting is the regular monthly meeting on the humanitarian situation in Syria, and Rajasingham is expected to address a range of issues related to Syria’s humanitarian crisis. Given the impending 10 July expiry of resolution 2533, however, the meeting is likely to focus primarily on the cross-border mechanism. Deliberations at the meeting are likely to be guided by the status and tone of the negotiations on the renewal of resolution 2533. On 25 June, Ireland and Norway, the co-penholders on Syria’s humanitarian file, circulated a zero draft of the resolution renewing the mandate of resolution 2533, calling for the authorisation of two crossings: the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Syrian-Turkish border and the Al-Yarubiyah crossing on the Syrian-Iraqi border. Council members began negotiations on 30 June, when they held an in-person meeting to discuss the draft text. At the time of writing, negotiations on the draft resolution are ongoing.

Rajasingham is likely to echo his and Secretary-General António Guterres’ assessment that the cross-border mechanism must be re-authorised, and even expanded, to prevent Syria’s dire humanitarian situation from worsening. Speaking to the Council on 23 June, Guterres noted that the Council’s “failure to extend the Council’s authorization would have devastating consequences”, especially for the nearly 3.4 million people in urgent need in Syria’s northwest. He highlighted the importance of “maintain[ing] and expand[ing] access, including cross-border and cross-line operations”, arguing that member states “must recognize that [cross-line deliveries] will never be able to replace cross-border assistance at the present levels”. (Cross-line deliveries refer to aid that traverses a domestic frontline from Syrian government-held areas into areas outside government control in northwest or northeast Syria.) Rajasingham told the Council that “failure to extend the authorisation [of the cross-border mechanism] will have stark consequences”. He pointed out that nearly a thousand trucks carrying humanitarian assistance, including COVID-19 vaccines, utilise the Bab al-Hawa crossing every month. He further reminded members that the “operation remains one of the most heavily scrutinized and monitored aid operations in the world”.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Council members are likely to reiterate positions that they expressed during the 23 June briefing. During that meeting, many Council members—including the P3 (France, the UK and the US), Estonia, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, Norway, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines—called for the continuation of the cross-border mechanism. The P3 and Estonia underlined that there was a need to expand the mechanism through the re-authorisation of the Al-Yarubiyah crossing and the Bab al-Salam crossing. Russia, however, was adamant that cross-line deliveries are sufficient, with its permanent representative, Vassily Nebenzia, stating that “allegations that cross-line deliveries [are] ineffective or totally impossible are ridiculous”.

These positions were subsequently voiced in several other international fora, highlighting the divergent views that exist amongst some Council members on the need for cross-border humanitarian assistance to Syria. On 28 June, at a meeting of foreign ministers in Rome as part of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken underscored “the importance of reauthorizing and expanding” cross-border assistance. In a 30 June press conference, Nebenzia said that “reopening the closed cross-border points [is] really a non-starter” and that “we have to ensure stable deliveries from the cross-line, from inside of Syria…”. On the same day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking after a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, said that the co-penholders’ proposed text “completely disregards” a number of issues that Russia argues have led to the dire humanitarian situation, which included sanctions as well as some Council members’ “refusal to ensure the delivery of international organisations’ humanitarian aid through Damascus and the contact line”.

Ambassador Nicolas De Rivière (France), speaking in a 1 July press conference to introduce France’s July presidency of the Council, stated that all members would like to see the cross-line mechanism work, but that it remained insufficient, especially given that “in 2021, 50 percent of cross-line requests have been rejected by the Syrian government”. A key meeting between high-level Russian and US officials took place on 2 July in Geneva where, among other issues, the cross-border mechanism was supposed to be discussed. At the time of writing, there was no detailed information on the contents of the meeting or if divisions between the US and Russia on the cross-border mechanism were bridged.

Rajasingham is likely to update Council members on the humanitarian situation in areas that would be affected by a failure to renew the cross-border mechanism into Syria’s northwest or possibly re-authorise the mechanism into Syria’s northeast. Given the closed setting of the meeting, he may use the opportunity to respond in detail to questions put to him by Council members in the chamber as well as during the Council’s 23 June open meeting. These include a series of questions posed by Russia on the current funding arrangements for aid delivery, monitoring of the mechanisms, obstacles to cross-line delivery and concerns regarding the possibility of aid diversion to terrorist organisations operating in the northwest.