With 2015 drawing to a close, Syria continued to sink “deeper and deeper into violence and brutality”, top United Nations officials told the Security Council today, urging parties to the conflict to allow humanitarian aid to enter and the international community to fund a $3.2 billion appeal for 2016.
“As we enter a new year, we must do our utmost to bring hope back to Syrians who have suffered so much,” said Kyung-Wha Kang, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, as she addressed the 15-member body. For five years, the world had watched Syria plunged deeper into conflict. “No words can do justice to the despair and devastation that millions of Syrians experience every day,” she said.
Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, had visited Syria from 12 to 14 December to find ways to improve the ongoing response efforts, she continued. During that mission, he had visited the Al-Waer neighbourhood in the city of Homs, where a cessation of hostilities had been reached. While that was a welcomed development, she reiterated that humanitarian access should be unhindered and sustained at all times, and not be made conditional on negotiated agreements.
The case of Al-Waer highlighted the severe needs of the 4.5 million people living in hard-to-reach areas, of which nearly 400,000 were besieged, she stated. From September to November 2015, the United Nations and its partners had reached only 32 per cent of those hard-to-reach-locations. As well, during the same period, parties to the conflict also continued to heavily restrict access to areas in need. That resulted in some 1 per cent of those besieged people receiving food assistance, and less than 1 per cent receiving health assistance. “This is simply unacceptable,” she said, calling on the Syrian authorities to approve the 47 pending inter-agency convoy requests and to allow previously agreed upon convoys to proceed.
Noting that cross-border operations authorized by the Council had had a significant impact on improving humanitarian access, she nevertheless expressed concern over the violence that had continued to escalate across Syria over the past month. Indiscriminate attacks by all parties to the conflict continued to result in loss of life, destruction of infrastructure and the denial of access to basic services to thousands of people. In that regard, she reminded all parties to the conflict of their responsibility to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, and urged all forces carrying out air strikes to comply with that basic principle enshrined in international humanitarian law.
She went on to note that much more humanitarian aid was needed. The humanitarian community had recently finalized a Humanitarian Response Plan for 2016 asking for nearly $3.2 billion to provide lifesaving assistance to some 13.5 million people inside of Syria. She called on all partners to contribute generously to those plans in preparation for the upcoming conference, “Supporting Syria and the Region, London 2016”. Describing Syrian patients at a rehabilitation centre at the Turkish border, she said that they were emblematic of their country and people — “broken in so many ways, but still desperately and defiantly struggling to hold on to life”. The international community must do its utmost to help bring the conflict to an end.
António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, also briefed the Council, stating that of the nearly 1 million people who had arrived in Europe by boat in 2015, half were Syrians, and they would go on trying to reach Europe until there was a fundamental change in the factors that were pushing them to leave. The Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was only 52 per cent funded. What was really needed was a change in bilateral and multilateral development cooperation policies and rules that would enable middle-income countries such as Jordan, Lebanon or Turkey to benefit from development instruments from which they were currently excluded.
A “New Deal” was needed between the international community and Syria’s neighbours, he said, adding: “It breaks my heart to see these families, who have already suffered so much, forced to put their lives into the hands of criminal smugglers and traffickers (…) often leaving them to drown in overcrowded, unseaworthy boats”. It was for that reason he supported the idea of a “vast” programme for resettlement, one large enough to help put an end to the tragedies of the Aegean Sea and the “chaotic” movement through the Balkans. However, if things continued as they did now, he feared not only for the lives of refugees, but for the future of European asylum, as restrictive measures spread like a virus, he said.
The crisis was more than a refugee emergency, he continued, noting that the link to regional, European and global security was clear. But legitimate as security and terrorism concerns were, the international community could not forget that refugees were the first victims of terror, not its source. They could not be blamed for a threat which they were risking their lives to escape. The longer the war dragged on, the more difficult it would be to keep paying for its consequences.
If the conflict did not end quickly, it might be the end of Syria as the world knew it, and the same was true for Iraq, he said. The international community could not allow today’s sectarian divide to escalate to the level of the wars of religion that had flattened large parts of Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The lessons of history showed that peace could not wait.
The meeting began at 3:05 p.m. and ended at 3:30 p.m.