Syria Situation Remains ‘Extremely Difficult’ for Civilians, Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Tells Security Council

SC/12932
27 July 2017
8015th Meeting (AM)

Syria Situation Remains ‘Extremely Difficult’ for Civilians, Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Tells Security Council

Permanent Representative Criticizes Secretary-General’s Reports, Sanctions, Saying Aid Convoys Go to Armed Groups, Not Those in Need

Despite declining violence in some parts of Syria in recent months, the country’s humanitarian and protection situation remained extremely difficult for civilians, Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Ursula Mueller told the Security Council today.

Ms. Mueller, who is also Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said that, in July, only one United Nations convoy a week had been getting into hard-to-reach areas of Syria — including Yalda, Babila and Beit Sahm in rural Damascus — where they were helping more than 120,000 people.  Briefing by video conference from Amman, Jordan, she also presented the Secretary-General’s latest report on the implementation of Council resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014), 2258 (2015) and 2332 (2016).

She said humanitarian partners had delivered convoys from Damascus throughout the month, adding:  “This means that under the United Nations June/July plan, we have so far reached just over a third of the 1 million people who were targeted.”  Predictably, obstacles to the planned progress of the convoys included non-issuance of approvals, lack of Government facilitation letters and other administrative delays, in addition to insecurity and fighting, she said.  Arbitrary restrictions by some non-State armed groups, listed terrorist groups and other self-designated local authorities also continued to obstruct access, meaning that, despite the reduced violence, there had not been a noticeable decrease in the areas reached.

In spite of those challenges, and the high threat to humanitarian workers, the United Nations and its partners continued to implement one of the world’s largest humanitarian operations in Syria, she emphasized.  Humanitarians continued to reach millions on a monthly basis, including through the start, this week, of the polio vaccination campaign launched by the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other health partners targeting some 450,000 children in Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa.  She called on all parties to ensure safety and access for the vaccination campaign team, saying:  “As you know, the polio virus respects no borders, nor any political, religious or security affiliation, and we must contain it.”

Syria’s representative noted that, even after three-and-a-half years, the Council continued to engage in a monthly exercise in which the participants were forced to read “immature and unprofessional” reports.  Emphasizing that the Secretary-General’s monthly reports were full of contradictions, he expressed regret that they were used to slander the Government of Syria and to apply political pressure.  Additionally, coercive, unilateral economic measures seriously affected the Syrian people and the humanitarian situation, including the provision of such basic services as health care, water, sanitation and education.

He went on to underline that certain international parties were intervening negatively in Syrian affairs with a view to implementing their own agendas, thereby preventing the realization of a solution driven by a political process and led by the Syrian people — without foreign intervention.  As for the humanitarian situation, he said aid convoys very often went to armed groups and not to the people who needed them, which only encouraged the terrorists who used civilians as human shields.

Also speaking today were representatives of Uruguay, Bolivia and the United States.

The meeting began started at 10:13 a.m. and ended at 11:08 a.m.

Briefing

URSULA MUELLER, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, briefed the Council via video conference from Amman, Jordan, reporting that, earlier in the day, she had visited the Azraq refugee camp, where around 35,000 refugees lived, many of whom had been there for several years.  Most were women and children, she added.  Presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report, she said that despite reduced violence in some areas since the 4 May memorandum on de-escalation, the humanitarian and protection situation remained extremely difficult for civilians in many parts of the country, she said.  Military operations had resumed in the besieged area of eastern Ghouta in rural Damascus, and in the Jobar neighbourhood of Damascus city, while the shelling had reportedly killed and injured several people in the towns of Tarma and Hazzeh in early and mid-July.  A local market had been hit in the besieged town of Kafr Batna on 16 July, and on 19 July, mortar shelling of the Harasta Hospital had reportedly injured one person and damaged the facility.  There had also been reports of air strikes against the towns of Arbin, Duma, Zamalka and Otaya, while in Idleb, infighting among non-State armed groups and designated terrorist groups had caused civilian casualties and led to rising tensions.

She went on to report that anti-Da’esh operations continued in Raqqa Governorate, where heavy fighting and air strikes continued to cause civilian casualties and injuries.  Large-scale displacement also continued, affecting more than 30,000 people since 1 July, and raising to more than 200,000 the total number of displaced since 1 April.  Humanitarian conditions were also very difficult for the displaced, particularly with temperatures approaching 50°C, she said.  An estimated 20,000 to 50,000 people remained inside Raqqa city, which was now encircled.  Their situation was perilous because they had no way to get out.  As military operations continued, there was concern about further civilian casualties, all the more so because Da’esh had allegedly used civilians as human shields, she said.  The United Nations was responding to help the displaced and stood ready to provide support to Raqqa city as soon as access and security conditions permitted.  The health situation, particularly the low availability of trauma-care services, was a major concern in view of the intense fighting and shifting front lines, she emphasized.

The situation at the Berm on the Syria-Jordan border had also taken a worrying turn for the more than 50,000 Syrian civilians stranded there, she continued.  Reports indicated that the Syrian army was now surrounding the area on the Syrian side following fierce battles between them and non-State armed groups.  Given the desperate security and humanitarian situation, regular and uninterrupted humanitarian programming for the area was critical, she stressed, adding that the United Nations was working with partners to identify a solution for the stranded.  She noted that there had been no convoys to the besieged areas in July, although airdrops to Deir ez-Zor continued.  In July, only one United Nations convoy a week was reaching hard-to-reach areas — including Yalda, Babila and Beit Sahm in rural Damascus — assisting more than 120,000 people, she said, noting that humanitarian partners had delivered convoys from Damascus throughout the month.  “This means that under the United Nations June/July plan, we have so far reached just over a third of the 1 million people who were targeted.”  Predictably, obstacles to the planned progress of convoys included non-issuance of approvals, lack of Government facilitation letters and other administrative delays in addition to insecurity and fighting, she said.  Arbitrary restrictions by some non-State armed groups, listed terrorist groups and other self-designated local authorities also continued to obstruct access, meaning that despite the reduced violence, there had not been a noticeable decrease in the areas reached.

In spite of those challenges, and the high threat to humanitarian workers, the United Nations and its partners continued to implement one of the world’s largest humanitarian operations in Syria, she emphasized.  Humanitarians continued to reach millions on a monthly basis, including through the start, this week, of the polio vaccination campaign by the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other health partners targeting some 450,000 children in Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa.  She called on all parties to ensure safety and access for the vaccination campaign team, saying:  “As you know, the polio virus respects no borders, nor any political, religious or security affiliation, and we must contain it.”  Noting that July marked the third anniversary of Security Council resolution 2165 (2014), she stressed that the importance of United Nations cross-border operations was beyond question and remained a vital lifeline to many in need.  The conflict in Syria may be complex, but ensuring that people were protected and supported was an imperative.  “None of us should stand silent while civilians suffer and while fear tactics and the denial of food, water, medical supplies and other forms of aid are used as methods of war.”

Statements

LUIS BERMÚDEZ (Uruguay) noted that the delivery of aid was becoming ever more haphazard owing to the security situation and the bureaucratic hurdles that the Government of Syria had erected.  The most vulnerable people were the most affected, he said, expressing support for the investigation into reports of possible war crimes.  Delivering justice to victims was essential in helping the Syrian people move beyond the war, and the Council had an obligation to achieve results and ensure accountability for the atrocities committed in Syria.  Expressing concern that the 4 May memorandum had yet to be fully implemented, he called for immediate humanitarian access and the lifting of all sieges.

SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia) said the Astana meeting had achieved some progress, yet many concerns remained, among them areas that humanitarian workers had difficulty reaching.  With more than 3.5 million people forced to leave their homes in search of safety and more than half the population displaced since the start of the war, Bolivia called on all parties to provide unhindered humanitarian access and to respect international law, he said, emphasizing his delegation’s condemnation of terrorism in all its forms.

BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria) said that the report omitted the real reason why humanitarian aid was unable to reach the designated recipients.  The security situation in Syria was extremely complex due to the activities of non-State and terrorist groups that continued to kill each other and derail demining activities under way.  Additionally, coercive, unilateral economic measures seriously affected the Syrian people and the humanitarian situation, including the provision of such basic services as health care, water, sanitation and education.  Certain international parties were intervening negatively in Syrian affairs with a view to implementing their own agendas, which prevented the realization of a solution driven by a political process and led by the Syrian people, without foreign intervention, he emphasized.

At the end of three-and-a-half years, the Council continued to engage in a monthly exercise in which participants were forced to read reports that were “immature and unprofessional”, he continued.  They were full of contradictions and contradicted noble humanitarian objectives that could only be achieved through cooperation and partnership, and without politicization between the United Nations and Damascus.  The Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator had not mentioned cooperation with the Government of Syria, whatsoever, he stressed, adding that the report also failed to mention that humanitarian assistance had reached millions of people.  Humanitarian partners could not replace the Syrian Government, he stressed.

Recalling her words to the effect that her office and the Syrian people had asked the Security Council for protection, he questioned how she could speak on behalf of the Syrian people.  Expressing regret that the Secretary-General’s monthly reports had turned away from their objectives in a pre-meditated fashion, he said that, instead of trying to overcome challenges, they were being used to slander the Syrian Government and apply political pressure.  Humanitarian aid convoys very often went to armed groups, and not to the people who needed them, which only encouraged the terrorists who used civilians as human shields, he said, underlining the Government’s efforts in assuming its responsibility to improve the living situation of the Syrian people, without discrimination.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs seemed to be saying it did not need the Syrian Government to carry out its humanitarian work, as though it was working on another planet in providing that assistance, he noted.  The Government was trying to pursue national reconciliation by giving each armed person the opportunity to turn in their weapons and return to their families and normal life.  However, the report’s authors clearly refused to criticize the so‑called international coalition, led by the United States.  The loss of human life and infrastructure had cost Syria billions of dollars and should be considered the main cause of the nation’s suffering, he said, questioning why the monthly reports had not presented that information in great detail.  The Office had slowed the process of ensuring that humanitarian aid reached some of the regions and zones that were most in need, and had abandoned some areas where no terrorists were present, he added.

MICHELE SISON (United States) said the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and its implementing partners on the ground were helping Syrians, while the Government of Syria was terrorizing its own citizens.

For information media. Not an official record.