What's In Blue

Posted Thu 19 May 2022

Syria Humanitarian Briefing

Tomorrow (20 May), Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths and a civil society representative are expected to brief the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria.

The Council deals with Syria on three tracks—political, humanitarian and chemical weapons—and discusses each of these tracks on a monthly basis. Tomorrow will be the first time that the Council has convened a meeting dedicated solely to the humanitarian situation in Syria since January (when Norway was president), as it has held joint monthly meetings on the political and humanitarian situations since then.

During tomorrow’s session, Griffiths is expected to give his assessment of the 9-10 May Brussels Conference, titled “Supporting the future of Syria and the region”, which was intended to support the UN’s efforts to find a political solution to the war in Syria and to mobilise financial support for Syrian refugees and their host communities. Conference participants—which included 55 countries and various UN entities, among other international organisations—pledged $4.3 billion for 2022 and $2.4 billion for future years. Griffiths may underscore the importance of converting the conference pledges into concrete commitments. He may also highlight the need to support early recovery projects in Syria in keeping with resolution 2585 of July 2021, which welcomed “all efforts and initiatives to broaden the humanitarian activities in Syria, including water, sanitation, health, education, and shelter early recovery projects”.

A consistent theme of the monthly meetings on the Syria humanitarian track—which is likely to feature prominently in the discussion again tomorrow—is the continued need for cross-line and cross-border humanitarian assistance in Syria. Resolution 2585 mandates the delivery of cross-line (that is, across domestic frontlines from Syrian government-held areas into areas outside government control) and cross-border humanitarian aid (from Turkey into Syria through the Bab al-Hawa crossing). While Griffiths is likely to welcome the cross-line delivery in northwest Syria earlier this month, he may emphasise that cross-line assistance cannot, at present, substitute for the size and scope of the cross-border aid operation, a point made by Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Joyce Msuya during her 26 April briefing to the Council. During that briefing, she underscored the scale of this operation: “Last year, the United Nations dispatched some 800 trucks of cross-border aid each month, consistently reaching 2.4 million people.”

Members will most likely reiterate divergent views on the importance of cross-border assistance in tomorrow’s meeting. Although several members have repeatedly emphasised that the cross-border aid mechanism is an essential humanitarian tool in Syria, China and Russia maintain that cross-line deliveries should supplant cross-border deliveries sooner rather than later. There is likely to be a heightened focus on the cross-border aid mechanism in the Council as the July expiration of resolution 2585 approaches.

Griffiths may warn that the deteriorating economic situation in Syria is leading to rising food prices and contributing to increased food insecurity in the country. Food insecurity affects roughly 12 million Syrians, with an additional 1.9 million at risk of becoming food insecure, according to the Secretary-General’s most recent 60-day report on the humanitarian situation in Syria (S/2022/330).

In his briefing to the Council on 24 March, Griffiths noted that the war in Ukraine was causing increases in energy and food prices that would have an especially negative effect on Syria. In this respect, members may be interested in Griffith’s analysis of the ripple effects of the conflict in Ukraine on Syria, how rising food and energy costs have adversely affected the wellbeing of Syrians, and what measures OCHA and other humanitarian organisations are taking to address the increasing needs.

Similarly, members may be interested in knowing what efforts are being undertaken to meet the needs of millions of Syrians with limited access to clean water. In his 19 April report, the Secretary-General notes that this challenge has resulted from several factors, including “low water levels in the Euphrates River, erratic and low rainfall, the operational capacity of water stations, electricity cuts and other disruptions to the water system, partly as a result of the hostilities”. He added that the hotter months approaching would likely heighten the demand for water. The lack of access to clean water also has detrimental effects on food production, he said.

Griffiths—and some Council members—may also reiterate their concerns about insecurity and humanitarian challenges at the al-Hol refugee camp in north-east Syria. Ninety-four percent of the camp’s 56,000 inhabitants are women and children, many of whom are associated with apprehended or deceased Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL\Da’esh) fighters. At the 26 April Council meeting, Msuya noted that “[m]urders, looting, and vandalism occur frequently” at the camp, whose residents “struggle to get food, medical care, clean water and other basic services”. In tomorrow’s meeting, Griffiths may emphasise the need for the countries of origin to repatriate their nationals in the camp; almost 8,000 of al-Hol’s residents are nationals of countries other than Syria and Iraq and some 30,000 of them are Iraqi. How to address the repatriation of foreign terrorist fighters and the women and children associated with them is a divisive issue in the Security Council, as some Council members have been hesitant about repatriating their nationals who are or have been associated with terrorist groups.

Since tomorrow’s briefing takes place shortly after Msuya’s 16-18 May visit to Syria, Griffiths may highlight for Council members key messages that Msuya conveyed during her mission: the need to maintain the world’s focus on addressing the urgent humanitarian needs of Syria and the resilience of the Syrian people.

Council members are scheduled to meet two more times this month on Syria, focusing on the chemical weapons track on 27 May and on the political track on 31 May.

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