Syria: Humanitarian Briefing and Consultations
Tomorrow afternoon (20 June), the Security Council will hold a briefing, followed by consultations, on the humanitarian situation in Syria. Secretary-General António Guterres is expected to provide introductory remarks and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths will brief. A civil society representative is also expected to brief in the open chamber.
This is likely to be the Council’s last meeting on the humanitarian situation in Syria before the expiry of resolution 2585 of 9 July 2021, which authorises cross-border humanitarian deliveries through the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Syrian-Turkish border. The resolution also encouraged efforts to improve cross-line deliveries of humanitarian assistance (that is, across domestic frontlines from Syrian government-held areas into areas outside government control). Tomorrow’s meeting will provide an opportunity for Council members to state their positions on the renewal of resolution 2585, which is set to expire on 10 July. Negotiations on the cross-border aid mechanism have traditionally been difficult. When the Council initially authorised the cross-border mechanism in resolution 2165 in July 2014, it approved four border crossings; in January 2020, only two crossings were renewed through resolution 2504, and since resolution 2533 of July 2020, a single crossing point has been authorised for humanitarian deliveries.
In his remarks, Guterres is expected to emphasise the importance of cross-border assistance. In his 16 June report to the Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria, Guterres stated: “there is no alternative in place at this time that can match the scale and scope of the massive United Nations cross-border operation”. He added: “[f]ailure to renew the authorization for the use of Bab al Hawa [the one remaining border crossing authorised by the Council] would mean cutting off this vital lifeline, at a time when needs are at their highest”. In this regard, he is likely to urge members to renew the cross-border aid mechanism authorised under resolution 2585 in his statement tomorrow.
Griffiths is expected to echo the Secretary-General’s messages. He may note that some 2.4 million Syrians receive food, health supplies, and other aid each month through cross-border assistance. Griffiths might also emphasise that the delivery of cross-border aid is rigorously monitored to help ensure that it only goes to civilians with the greatest needs.
On 16 June, Griffiths and the other UN humanitarian principals—Executive Director of UNICEF Catherine Russell, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Natalia Kanem, Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) António Vitorino, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) David Beasley, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, and Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus—issued a statement in which they urged the Council to renew resolution 2585 and re-authorise cross-border assistance for an additional year.
Members are likely to reiterate their divergent views on the importance of cross-border assistance at tomorrow’s meeting. These differing perspectives are consistently evident in Council sessions on Syria, and are likely to take on a heightened focus at the briefing, given that the expiration of resolution 2585 is fast approaching. 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. During the most recent Council meeting on the humanitarian situation in Syria, which took place on 20 May, Russia argued that the mechanism violated Syria’s sovereignty and expressed concern that humanitarian assistance was being manipulated by terrorist groups in the country. At a 26 April Council meeting on Syria, China similarly expressed concern that cross-border humanitarian aid could be misappropriated by terrorists.
While much of the focus of tomorrow’s meeting will be on cross-border assistance, Griffiths is also expected to report on the cross-line delivery of humanitarian aid to north-west Syria. The fifth cross-line delivery since the Council adopted resolution 2585 took place earlier this month. Several members are likely to welcome this development.
Griffiths and some Council members may emphasise that early recovery projects are an important part of the humanitarian response in Syria. Such activities focus on the repair of civilian infrastructure, vocational training, and debris and waste removal, among other areas. Members may be interested in an update from Griffiths on these activities. Resolution 2585 welcomed all efforts to expand humanitarian activities in Syria, including early recovery projects. Several Council members have long resisted support for development projects in Syria until the government engages in the political process in a meaningful way; however, they do support early recovery efforts, which they categorise as humanitarian in nature.
Griffiths may warn that the deteriorating economic situation in Syria is leading to rising food and fuel 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. In this respect, members may be interested in Griffiths’ analysis of how rising food and energy costs have adversely affected the wellbeing of Syrians, and what steps OCHA and other humanitarian organisations are taking to address the increasing needs.
Similarly, members may be interested in learning what efforts are being undertaken to meet the needs of millions of Syrians with limited access to clean water. In his recent 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 including due to hostilities”.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Griffiths and some Council members may 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. Griffiths may emphasise the need for countries of origin to repatriate their nationals in al-Hol, where 16 people have been murdered thus far in 2022. 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. In his 20 May Council briefing, Griffiths noted that “nearly 10,000 children and their mothers in the north-east are detained in prisons and prison-like camps”, arguing that the children “should be released into suitable care” and calling on all relevant member states to “take urgent action…to repatriate their citizens through all available routes”.
In the near future, the humanitarian penholders on Syria, Ireland and Norway, are expected to initiate negotiations to renew the authorisations contained in resolution 2585. The next Council meeting on Syria is scheduled for 29 June and will focus on the political track.