22 August 2012
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs

 

on Her Recent Visit to Syria

 


The end of the United Nations observer mission in Syria would not significantly impact humanitarian activities there, but more generous funding support was needed, the Organization’s top humanitarian affairs official said at a Headquarters new conference today.


“The direct impact on our work will be negligible,” said Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, explaining that the observers had not been engaged in a broader humanitarian effort.  Their mandate was mainly to monitor a ceasefire and human rights abuses, she added.  Ms. Amos visited Syria and Lebanon last week to see for herself the impact of the intensifying conflict, and discuss how to increase humanitarian assistance to those facing its terrible effects.


Noting that the humanitarian situation had worsened since her visit in March, she said that, according to the Syrian Government’s own figures, 1.2 million people were sheltering in public buildings, and many more were staying with relatives and friends.  Those who had fled, as well as their hosts, had urgent humanitarian needs due to the widening impact of the crisis on the economy and people’s livelihoods, she said, adding that there were serious public health issues in the school buildings used as shelters.


“The most urgent and growing needs are for health care, shelter, food, water and sanitation,” she said, warning of disruption to the education of thousands of Syrian children in the academic year beginning next month, unless housing solutions were found for internally displaced people.  The United Nations and its partners were reaching more people with emergency aid every month, including distributions by the World Food Programme (WFP) through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and local partners, reaching all governorates across Syria.  More than 820,000 people had been fed in July, she said, adding that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) had distributed hygiene kits, blankets and other basic items to more than 60,000 people in the first two weeks of August.


“But it’s not enough when we are dealing with the needs of an estimated 2.5 million people,” she emphasized.  Humanitarian activities faced problems in gaining access to people in need, particularly where there was intense fighting, but “funding is also holding us back”, she said, expressing concern that all parties to the conflict were failing to comply with international humanitarian law relating to the protection of civilians.  All those engaged in the conflict should respect civilians and abide by international humanitarian law, she reiterated.


The Under-Secretary-General said she had been unable to visit refugees in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley due to the security situation prevailing at the time.  However, she had been able to meet Wael Abou-Faour, the country’s Minister for Social Affairs.


Asked whether she would attend a ministerial meeting of the Security Council next week, she said she would be in Mali, but the Deputy Secretary-General would brief the Council and draw attention to the humanitarian impact of the Syrian crisis.  Hopefully, the Council would recognize the importance of coming together and working consistently in asking the Syrian authorities to continue to open up humanitarian access.  She also expressed hope that the Council would make it clear to the Syrian leadership, as well as all other parties to the conflict, that they had serious responsibilities under international humanitarian law.


Ms. Amos recalled that, while there had been no narrative pointing to a humanitarian crisis during her March visit to Syria, all the ministers with whom she had spoken recently had acknowledged that more than a million had been displaced, not including those sheltering with relatives, friends and all others.  Although she had sought to get the Government to acknowledge that the Syrian Arab Red Crescent was an excellent partner, it was reluctant to include the bigger international non-governmental organizations that worked so successfully in other crises for fear that they would support opposition groups.


Asked about reports that Turkey would close the border if the number of Syrian refugees reached 100,000, Ms. Amos said the country’s Foreign Minister had not said that, explaining that he had told her his country had the capacity to deal with about 100,000 refugees, but there was huge concern about the security impact on Turkey.


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For information media • not an official record