What's In Blue

Posted Wed 15 Feb 2023

Syria: Informal Interactive Dialogue

Tomorrow morning (16 February), Security Council members will hold an informal interactive dialogue (IID) on Syria. (IIDs are informal closed meetings that allow for the participation of non-Council members. There are no meeting records of IIDs, and they are not included in the Council’s monthly programme of work.) This meeting will be the first IID on Syria since resolution 2672 of 9 January confirmed the extension of the authorisation for the Syria cross-border aid mechanism until 10 July. (Through this mechanism, humanitarian assistance is delivered to Syria from Türkiye via the Bab al-Hawa crossing without requiring the consent of the Syrian government.)

Resolution 2672 encourages Security Council members to convene IIDs every two months “with participation of donors, interested regional parties and representatives of the international humanitarian agencies operating in Syria”. The purpose of these IIDs is to review and follow up on the resolution’s implementation, including with regard to early recovery projects.

Tomorrow’s IID is expected to feature a briefing by Tareq Talahma, OCHA’s Acting Director for Operations and Advocacy. Three other UN officials—Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator ad interim for Syria El-Mostafa Benlamlih, Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis Muhannad Ibrahim Ahmed Hadi, and Deputy Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria crisis ad interim on surge to Türkiye David Carden—will also be on hand to respond to questions from Council members. Following the briefing, Syria will have the opportunity to make a brief intervention. Council members are then expected to make short statements, which may include specific questions for the briefers. Interested regional parties (Iran and Türkiye) and donors (Canada, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and the EU) are likely to take part in the meeting as well. Following the briefings and statements, the UN officials will have an opportunity to respond to the questions posed to them.

This meeting comes at a critical time, as Syria continues to grapple with the devastating humanitarian consequences of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck south-east Türkiye and north Syria on 6 February. During an 8 February press briefing, Benlamlih noted that 10.9 million people in Syria have been affected by the earthquake in the north-western governorates of Hama, Latakia, Idlib, and Aleppo. According to OCHA’s 14 February flash update, more than 4,400 deaths and 8,600 injuries have been reported in north-west Syria as a result of the earthquake. Both figures are likely to rise as numerous people remain trapped in the debris of collapsed buildings, while relief efforts are impeded by damaged infrastructure and limited access to some affected areas.

This will be the third Council meeting on Syria in four days. On 13 February, the Security Council held a private meeting, which was followed by closed consultations, to discuss the humanitarian situation in Syria in the aftermath of the 6 February earthquake. Brazil and Switzerland, the co-penholders on the Syria humanitarian file, requested this meeting, during which Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths briefed the Council on his recent visit to earthquake-affected areas in Türkiye and Syria. He provided an update on the Syrian government’s decision to open two crossing points—Bab Al-Salam and Al Ra’ee from Türkiye to north-west Syria—for an initial period of three months, to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid. In a 13 February statement, Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed this decision and noted that “as the toll of the 6 February earthquake continues to mount, delivering food, health, nutrition, protection, shelter, winter supplies and other life-saving supplies to all the millions of people affected is of the utmost urgency”. (For background, see our 13 February What’s in Blue story.)

It seems that during the consultations Council members discussed whether a Council product was needed to respond to the recent developments. Members apparently expressed opposing views, with some members calling for a resolution recognising the opening of the two border crossings and the need to monitor the delivery of humanitarian aid through these crossings. It seems that these members argued that such a resolution is necessary to ensure the predictable delivery of aid to affected areas. Other Council members apparently strongly opposed the idea of a Council resolution on the matter, emphasising the need to respect Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It seems that other members indicated an interest in having further discussions on the issue.

In a 13 February tweet, Ambassador Nicolas de Rivière (France) emphasised that if the Syrian government fails to implement its commitment to open the two crossing points, the Security Council “will have to take its responsibilities and adopt a resolution”. At a media stakeout on 14 February, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield (US) welcomed the opening of additional border crossings, describing this decision as “long overdue”. She emphasised the need for a resolution with monitoring mechanisms that “codifies additional crossing[s] and offers predictability” for the UN and humanitarian actors on the ground.

On 15 February, Security Council members held a meeting on Syria under “any other business” at the request of France. Griffiths briefed members on the UN’s efforts to facilitate the continued flow of humanitarian aid to those in need. It seems that France called the meeting to discuss the modalities of the ongoing cross-border operations and OCHA’s plans to operationalise the additional border crossings.

At tomorrow’s meeting, the briefers are likely to provide an update on the delivery of humanitarian aid in Syria, both cross-line (that is, across domestic frontlines from Syrian government-held areas into areas outside government control) and cross-border. At the time of writing, a total of 95 trucks loaded with aid provided by six UN agencies have crossed to north-west Syria from Türkiye since the earthquake, including a convoy of 11 trucks that crossed to north-west Syria through the Bab Al-Salam border crossing on 14 February. Members may also be interested in learning more about OCHA’s plans to intensify cross-line operations.

The briefers might also describe—and members may inquire about—the efforts of OCHA and other humanitarian actors to respond to the priority needs in the earthquake-affected areas, such as heavy machines for debris removal; medical supplies, including ambulances and medicine; and shelter and non-food items.

Talahma is likely to reiterate his call for more funding for the humanitarian response in Syria, including for early recovery projects.  He might note that these projects—which are designed to increase access to basic services such as clean water, electricity, health care, and education—are critical to improving the humanitarian situation in the country.

On 13 February, Guterres launched a flash appeal seeking $397.6 million for the provision of humanitarian assistance to 4.9 million Syrians over a three-month period from February to May. The appeal covers several different sectors, including food security and agriculture; early recovery and livelihoods; water, sanitation and hygiene health; nutrition; and protection. The appeal complements the 2022-2023 Syria Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP), which estimates the projects to be implemented in 2023 at a value of $4.8 billion. At the time of writing, the flash appeal for Syria was 4.8 percent funded.

At the most recent IID on Syria, which took place on 16 December 2022, Talahma apparently emphasised the importance of maintaining the cross-border aid mechanism, saying that it helps to meet the basic needs of millions of Syrians. He added that limited funding has hampered OCHA’s ability to respond to the humanitarian situation in Syria.

The Council’s next formal meeting on Syria will be a briefing scheduled for 27 February on political and humanitarian issues in the country.

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