Permanent Representative Stresses Cross-border Operations Violate Sovereignty
Current funding is insufficient to meet increasing humanitarian needs in Syria, the senior United Nations official in that country said in a briefing to the Security Council today, as members diverged on the appropriate modalities for delivering existing aid to help the millions suffering across the country.
Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that, whereas pledges totalled nearly $6.7 billion at last week’s Brussels Conference, those commitments represent less than half of the total funding requirement for 2022.
He emphasized that the underfunding will force humanitarian partners to make difficult choices in their responses, citing the World Food Programme’s (WFP) warning that further cuts to its programme could materialize by July due to rising food prices and stagnant funding. “It is now critical that the generous pledges announced in Brussels be converted into early disbursals of funding.”
Outlining conditions on the ground, he reported that civilians continue to be affected by air strikes, shelling, detainment, critically low water levels, electricity shortages and eroding purchasing power. He noted that on 16 May, the fourth cross-line convoy delivered food assistance to people in north-west Syria, adding that plans for a fifth delivery are under way. However, cross-line humanitarian access cannot replace the size or scope of the massive cross-border operation, he stressed. With the Council’s authorization of cross-border assistance expiring in just over six weeks, failure to renew it “will disrupt life-saving aid for the people living in north-west Syria, including more than a million children”, he warned.
Also briefing was Farida Almouslem of the Syrian American Medical Society, who detailed her experience working as an obstetrician-gynaecologist in Aleppo from 2011 until 2016. “Syrians throughout the country are suffering, and every one of us has an obligation to help,” she emphasized. Humanitarian needs continue to grow while funding decreases, and additional funds are needed to prevent further hospital closures and provide critical nutrition assistance. Calling upon the Council to renew the cross-border resolution so that doctors and humanitarian workers have the medicine and tools they need to help their patients, she said it must also require proper monitoring and oversight “so that what resources do go into Syria are properly utilized”.
In the ensuing debate, many Council members stressed the need to use all modalities to deliver aid to the millions of Syrians in need, citing the critical, irreplaceable nature of the cross-border aid mechanism. Others called for expanded cross-line deliveries to complement and eventually replace that mechanism. Speakers also detailed national aid commitments made at last week’s Brussels Conference, even as others underscored the need to avoid politicizing the humanitarian issue and to delink development assistance from political progress.
The Russian Federation’s representative, noting that the anaemic support for four cross-line convoys from Damascus over the course of a year “can hardly be called a success”, said the main problem is that implementation of early recovery and reconstruction projects are contingent on the political considerations of donor countries. Meanwhile, efforts to safeguard the cross-border mechanism at any cost increasingly resemble the parents of a lazy, negligent student facing suspension from school. “Nothing good comes of such spoiled children,” he said, emphasizing that the United Nations continues to ignore the devastating effects of the unilateral sanctions imposed on the Syrian people by the United States and the European Union.
Brazil’s representative echoed that point, calling for a thorough, permanent review of the consequences of unilateral sanctions on civilians amidst the acute economic crisis and escalating hunger. The international community must continue to work for predictable, regular delivery of aid, both through cross-line and cross-border operations, he said, emphasizing the need for detailed monitoring of all humanitarian operations.
The representative of the United States, however, pointed out that whereas the 16 May cross-line delivery provided food for 43,500 people, United Nations cross-border aid through Bab al-Hawa provides food for 1.4 million people in a typical month. “There is just no comparison,” she emphasized, urging the Council not only to renew the cross-border mandate, but also to increase the number of crossing points to meet the rising demand for humanitarian aid. The United States will provide $800 million in new humanitarian assistance to Syria, she said, while stressing that no amount is enough if it cannot reach those in need.
Syria’s representative emphasized that, whereas the Government looks forward to enhancing cross-line aid delivery, the so-called cross-border mechanism continually violates Syria’s sovereignty and is gravely defective. He went on to spotlighted his country’s 30 April presidential decree of amnesty, saying it seeks to improve the humanitarian situation, consolidate national reconciliation and facilitate the return of refugees and displaced persons to their homeland. Calling for an objective, balanced consideration of the Government’s measures in that regard, he urged “some countries” to abandon their erroneous policies and engage with the Syrian Government.
Also speaking today were representatives of Norway (also speaking for Ireland), Ghana (also speaking for Gabon and Kenya), United Kingdom, France, Albania, India, China, Mexico, United Arab Emirates, Iran and Turkey.
The meeting started at 10:14 a.m. and ended at 12:06 p.m.
MARTIN GRIFFITHS, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, welcomed the pledges totalling nearly $6.7 billion at the recent sixth Brussels Conference for Syria and the region, while noting that those commitments represent less than half of the total funding requirement for 2022. Underfunding means that humanitarian partners will need to prioritize their response and once again make difficult choices, he said. Recalling the World Food Programme’s (WFP) warning that further cuts to its programme could materialize by July, driven by the global rise in food prices and stagnant funding levels, he said that would have a devastating impact, with 1.9 million more people likely to slide into hunger conditions. “It is now critical that the generous pledges announced in Brussels be converted into early disbursals of funding,” he emphasized.
Outlining conditions on the ground, he said air strikes and shelling in north-west Syria continue to affect civilians, adding that insecurity also continues at the Al Hol camp for displaced persons in the north-east. So far in 2022, 13 murders and four attempted murders have been reported in the camp. “The situation in Al Hol is a disgrace for the 56,000 civilians living there, the vast majority women and children,” he stressed, noting that nearly 10,000 children and their mothers are detained in prisons and prison-like camps. Calling for the Council to act, he underlined that children should not be detained on the sole basis of alleged association with armed groups. They should be released into suitable care with protection and access to basic services, he said, reiterating his call upon all Member States involved to urgently fulfil their responsibility to repatriate their citizens.
“We are fast approaching summer and its scorching heat in most parts of Syria,” he continued, pointing out that the coming high temperatures will lead to increasing demand for water. Already, water levels in the Euphrates River — on which some 5.5 million people in Syria depend — are dropping to a critically low point, he said. Officials have warned that due to low water levels, the Tishreen Dam is only operational six hours a day, compromising the water and electricity supply. “Without electricity, irrigation pumps cannot function, hospitals and other critical services cannot be supported, and residents must purchase drinking water, further eroding their purchasing power,” he noted. The Alouk water station continues to work intermittently, and pumping has been interrupted several times in the past month due to electricity shortages, he said, adding that Hassakeh city continues to receive supplies through water trucking, which is not a sustainable solution.
He went on to report that the United Nations and its partners are currently supporting more than 12,000 students in crossing between areas of control to take school exams at the end of May. Emphasizing their right to education, he declared: “These children are the only hope for Syria’s future.” It is the responsibility of relevant parties to respect their right to travel safely, he said, adding that the United Nations continues its efforts to expand cross-line humanitarian access and is planning a cross-line mission to Ras al Ayn, in the north-east, to provide COVID-19 vaccines, early childhood vaccines and other medication, he added. On 16 May, meanwhile, the fourth cross-line convoy delivered food assistance to more than 40,000 people in north-western Syria, and plans are under way for a fifth delivery, he said.
Pointing out that the Council’s authorization of cross-border assistance into the north-west expires in just over six weeks, he said that, while the United Nations is doing its utmost to expand cross-line access operations, those cannot currently replace the size or scope of the massive cross-border operation. “Failure to renew the authorization will disrupt life-saving aid for the people living in north-west, including for more than a million children,” he warned. Deputy Relief Coordinator Joyce Msuya is currently completing a visit to Syria and Jordan to identify strategies that will meet the challenges of the coming months, which will be part of the humanitarian briefing to the Council in June, he said.
FARIDA ALMOUSLEM of the Syrian American Medical Society detailed her experience working as an obstetrician-gynaecologist in Aleppo from 2011 until 2016. “I witnessed hundreds of atrocities which are still stuck in my mind,” she said, recalling a tearful plea from a woman begging for help getting pregnant again after losing her four children to a barrel bomb. She said her hospital was repeatedly targeted by air strikes, cluster munitions, barrel bombs and “bunker-buster” bombs. Under such heavy bombardment, operating rooms were moved to the basement and, after the bunker-buster bombs failed to penetrate, a munition containing chlorine gas was dropped directly on the hospital, she added. Following another such incident the following day, she noted, the hospital was evacuated and she was forcibly displaced from Aleppo to Idlib. “My family and I lost everything,” she said, demanding: “Where is the accountability?”
She went on to state that she continued to work in hospitals throughout northern Syria after that displacement, summarizing her experiences in Syria as “tremendous human suffering”. She added: “Syrians throughout the country are suffering, and every one of us has an obligation to help.” Humanitarian needs continue to grow while funding decreases, she said, emphasizing the need for additional funds to prevent further hospital closures, provide critical nutrition assistance and increase the health system’s capacity throughout Syria. Furthermore, the enormous humanitarian needs require access by all modalities, especially the cross-border mechanism, she noted, stressing that, whereas cross-line access must be improved through greater planning and coordination, it cannot replace the enormous cross-border operation currently taking place.
After more than a decade of brutal conflict, the entire population is suffering from psychological wounds, she continued, citing her own daughter’s experience of siege, starvation, bombardment, chemical weapons and forced displacement by the age of eight. More resources must be committed to provide quality mental-health services throughout Syria, as the lack thereof has resulted in increased rates of suicide, domestic and gender-based violence and substance abuse, she emphasized. Against that backdrop, she called upon the Council to renew the cross-border resolution so that doctors and humanitarian workers have the medicine and tools they need to help their patients, and to require proper monitoring and oversight “so that what resources do go into Syria are properly utilized”.
MONA JUUL (Norway), speaking also on behalf of Ireland, urged all parties listed in the Secretary-General’s Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict to develop and fully implement action plans to end and prevent violations against children. Given the overwhelming and increasing humanitarian needs, the Council must stand unified in its resolve to mitigate them, she said, pointing out that her country and Ireland, as facilitators of the Syria humanitarian file, strongly support the use of all modalities to deliver aid to millions of Syrians in need. While welcoming this week’s arrival of another humanitarian convoy across the conflict line into the north-west, she stressed that more can and must be done. She called upon all parties to support cross-line deliveries to all parts of Syria, de-politicize aid deliveries, and grant the necessary security guarantees to ensure the safe passage of cross-line convoys and their personnel. With several hundred trucks every month, the cross-border mechanism remains the critical lifeline, and without it, millions of lives would be at even greater risk, she warned.
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana), also speaking on behalf of Gabon and Kenya, welcomed efforts to address the growing protection needs in Syria and to provide assistance to areas both in and outside Government control. He condemned all human rights abuses, especially at the Al Hol Camp, where murder cases are rising. He also expressed concern about reported use of laser-guided weapons targeting civilian areas, humanitarian centres and hospitals. Emphasizing the vital need for humanitarian access to all areas where people are in need, he called for continued support for all aid delivery mechanisms, noting the extensive reach of the cross-border system and the complementarity provided by the cross-line system. Humanitarian action anywhere should be guided by the principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence, he emphasized, while highlighting the grave risks posed by such Council-listed terrorist groups as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.
JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom) noted that the Council will be deliberating the future of the United Nations mandate to deliver cross-border assistance into Syria in the coming weeks. “[Against] the backdrop of a growing global food crisis, the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and increasing violence, it is clear that the Syrian people need more support from the international community,” he said. He pointed out that the United Kingdom has supported the Syrian people from the start of the conflict, spending more than $4 billion in aid to date and committing nearly $200 million at last week’s Brussels Conference. Emphasizing that there is no alternative to the cross-border mechanism, he cautioned that closing the Bab al-Hawa crossing would mean reduced access to life-saving sexual and reproductive health services for women and girls, severe disruption to early recovery efforts and a devastating hindrance of ongoing efforts to vaccinate Syrians against COVID‑19. Without the “gold standard” monitoring mechanism of the United Nations, meanwhile, other options would make it easier for assistance to fall into the hands of terrorists, he warned.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) said the Syrian people continue to pay the price for their country’s long conflict, with air strikes intensifying once again in the north-west in recent months. Meanwhile, the Russian Federation’s war of aggression in Ukraine has had serious impacts on the situation by driving up global food prices. Noting his country’s contribution to last week’s funding conference in Brussels, he emphasized that the cross-border aid delivery mechanism is more important than ever. Whereas progress on cross-line assistance must be pursued, it cannot supplant cross-border operations, as cross-line convoys remain subject to consent by the Syrian regime and have never fully compensated for the closure of the Al-Yurabiya crossing, he said. Only a credible political settlement will end the conflict, he stressed, adding that pending such a resolution, France and its European Union partners will maintain its position on the provision of reconstruction assistance.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) stated that the cross-border mechanism violates Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Noting that that four cross-line convoys from Damascus over the course of a year “can hardly be called a success”, he said descriptions of lack of the necessary security to justify that small number arise solely in the context of cross-line deliveries, while apparently nothing prevents the passage of goods through the Bab al-Hawa checkpoint. He emphasized that there have been no systematic efforts to “change the picture” despite resolution 2585 (2021), and the main problem is that implementation of early recovery and reconstruction projects is contingent on the political considerations of donor countries. He went on to note that efforts to safeguard the cross-border mechanism at any cost increasingly resemble the parents of a lazy, negligent student facing suspension from school. “Nothing good comes of such spoiled children,” he said, adding that the United Nations continues to ignore the devastating consequences of the unilateral sanctions imposed on the Syrian people by the United States and the European Union.
FERIT HOXHA (Albania), noting that millions of people in north-eastern Syria rely on cross-border assistance, emphasized that aid must reach all in need. He also spotlighted the situation in the al-Rukban camp, in which thousands of people — nearly 80 per cent women and children — are living in squalid conditions. Noting that the Assad regime has blocked United Nations aid from entering the camp for more than three years, he called on that regime to allow unhindered access for humanitarian goods and personnel. He went on to express concern over the humanitarian situation of women and children in detention, and called for the release and familial reunification of all children deprived of liberty. A mechanism and a consultative group on missing persons would provide meaningful support to detainees, he said, warning: “If we do not assist people in need, we inadvertently nourish future conflicts.”
Mr. RAGHORAM (India) emphasized the need to avoid linking humanitarian and developmental assistance with progress in the political process, cautioning that such a position would only exacerbate humanitarian suffering. Stressing the urgent need to scale up assistance, he said humanitarian agencies must receive the necessary funding to fully execute their plans without politicizing people’s basic needs. The international community must constructively seek to promote projects that will bring much-needed jobs and economic opportunities, he said. Noting that external players have contributed to the growth of terrorist groups in Syria, he warned that the international community’s continued neglect of that issue will cause irreparable damage to the collective fight against terrorism. Concerned that humanitarian assistance to Syria was less in 2021 than in the previous year, he requested that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs comprehensively harmonize data related to early recovery and resilience projects to give the Council a holistic view by the end of June, well before expiry of the cross-border authorization. He went on to say that his country continues to provide developmental assistance and human resource development support to Syria through grants and lines of credit for development projects, supply of medicine and food, camps for fitting artificial limbs, a next-generation information technology centre, and capacity-building training programmes.
XING JISHENG (China) expressed concern that the humanitarian needs in Syria are currently at their highest level ever. Urging the international community to take stock of their actions, tailor their responses and avoid politicizing the humanitarian issue, he noted the progress made in cross-line aid delivery while spotlighting the need to respect Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Cross-border mechanisms should gradually give way to cross-line operations, he said, emphasizing the international community should increase their efforts to remove obstacles facing the latter. He emphasized the need to alleviate Syria’s economic suffering, including by funding early recovery projects. Meanwhile, unilateral coercive measures continue to devastate Syria and must be lifted as soon as possible, he stressed, condemning the continued pillaging and smuggling of Syria’s oil.
JUAN GÓMEZ ROBLEDO VERDUZCO (Mexico) drew particular attention to the risks posed by mines and unexploded ordnance and called for prompt demining action. He went on to state that the situation of more than 56,000 inhabitants of the Al Hol camp remains deplorable, affecting women and children most, calling for the urgent repatriation of third-country nationals still inside Syria. While welcoming the successful delivery of a fourth cross-line convoy, he emphasized that such deliveries cannot substitute the more than 800 trucks entering Syria through the Bab Al-Hawa border crossing point each month. As such, there is an absolute need for the Council to renew the authorization of that single crossing point as a “last hope for survival for millions and millions of Syrians”.
LANA ZAKI NUSSEIBEH (United Arab Emirates), while noting that providing basic humanitarian assistance remains critical, called for broadening the scope of current discussions to include how to restore security, stability and prosperity. To move beyond short-term solutions, the international community must take concrete steps to end the humanitarian crisis in a sustainable manner and ensure dignified living conditions for the Syrian people. She called upon the Council to consider renewing the cross-border aid mechanism, noting that although it is not perfect, it remains necessary to ensure delivery of aid to those in north-west Syria. The United Arab Emirates supports delivery of humanitarian aid, including cross-line assistance, through all means, she said. Expressing concern about the dire security and deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Al Hol camp, she said that addressing the humanitarian conditions there will not succeed without also addressing the security conditions in the camp, which impede the delivery of drinking water and halt life-saving activities.
RONALDO COSTA FILHO (Brazil) said international agencies must be adequately equipped and financed so that food supplies can continue to reach those most in need. Also, there must be a thorough and permanent review of the consequences of unilateral sanctions on civilians amidst the acute economic crisis and escalating hunger. As humanitarian assistance remains indispensable for millions of people across Syria, the international community must continue to work for predictable and regular delivery of international aid, both through cross-line and cross-border operations, he emphasized. Calling for close and detailed monitoring of all humanitarian operations, he said ways must be sought to facilitate more cross-line operations, while stressing that a nationwide ceasefire and a political solution pursuant to resolution 2254 (2015) is still the only way out of the decade-long conflict.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States), Council President for May, spoke in her national capacity, saying her country will provide more than $800 million in new humanitarian assistance to Syria, including essential health, food, water, shelter and other critical relief. She pointed out, however, that no amount of aid will be enough if it cannot reach those in need, while emphasizing her country’s commitment to implementing all aspects of resolution 2585 (2021), including both cross-line and cross-border assistance. While welcoming the fourth cross-line delivery on 16 May, she stressed that such cross-line convoys cannot replicate the size and scope of cross-border operations. The May cross-line delivery provided food for 43,500 people, whereas United Nations cross-border aid through Bab al-Hawa provides food for 1.4 million people, in a typical month, she pointed out, stressing: “There is just no comparison.” She went on to urge the Council not only to renew the cross-border mandate but also to increase the number of crossing points to meet the rising demand for humanitarian aid.
BASSAM SABBAGH (Syria), spotlighting his country’s 30 April presidential decree of amnesty — which grants general amnesty for terrorist crimes committed by Syrians before that date except those that led to the death of a human being — emphasized that it excludes foreign terrorists. Their countries of origin remain responsible for repatriating such individuals and their families, he said. The decree falls within the framework of Government measures to improve the humanitarian situation, consolidate national reconciliation and facilitate the return of refugees and displaced persons to their homeland, he explained. Calling for an objective, balanced consideration of the steps the Government has taken, he urged “some countries” to abandon their erroneous policies and responsibly engage with the Syrian Government. He went on to note that Damascus recently facilitated the passage of a fourth United Nations convoy from Aleppo to north-west Syria and looks forward to enhancing cross-line aid delivery. However, the so-called cross-border aid mechanism continually violates Syria’s sovereignty and is gravely defective, he emphasized.
MAJID TAKHT RAVANCHI (Iran) said, whereas resolution 2585 (2021) supports early recovery and reconstruction projects well as the provision of basic services, unfortunately, continuing unilateral sanctions have stymied its implementation and even delayed the return of refugees and displaced persons. Those “irresponsible, immoral and illegal” measures have also hampered the Syrian Government’s ability to realize economic and social stability and to improve the living conditions of Syrians, he added. Expressing support for the Syrian Government’s full cooperation with the United Nations and other actors involved in cross-line aid, he described that mechanism as a safe legal method to help people in need. While underlining Iran’s support for Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, he strongly condemned Israel’s continuing occupation of the Syrian Golan as well as its repeated violations of Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity — particularly its targeting of civilians and civilian objects — and called for an end to all illegal foreign presences in Syria.
FERIDUN HADI SINIRLIOĞLU (Turkey), joining other speakers in noting the conflict’s growing humanitarian scale, emphasized that behind each statistic mentioned in the Council is a human being. He noted that, like other countries, Turkey has rightly been supporting civilians in need in Europe since the start of the war in Ukraine. However, the international community must not forget the plight of Syrian civilians, he stressed, declaring: “This war is still the primary breeding ground for one of the most serious humanitarian crises in the world.” However, funding for humanitarian assistance to Syrians has fallen at a time when needs are rising, he pointed out. Noting that the Council is now weeks away from renewing the cross-border aid delivery mechanism, he said cross-line operations from within Syria simply cannot replace the size and scope of cross-border operations. The latter’s renewal is therefore a moral and humanitarian imperative which should be guided solely by humanitarian considerations and must not be politicized, he stressed.
Responding to Syria’s representative, he said he does not consider that delegate a legitimate counterpart and will therefore not respond to his delusionary statement.