The United Nations and its partners faced serious challenges in accessing 13.1 million people requiring assistance in Syria, the Deputy Relief Coordinator told the Security Council today, stressing that in the last month alone, “not one convoy has been able to deploy” to besieged and hard-to-reach areas.
Urusula Mueller, who is also Assistant-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said discussions had stalled over requirements to lower the number of beneficiaries, and splitting convoys in a way that prohibited them from providing food and other essential items. “Our deliveries must continue to be based on humanitarian principles and international humanitarian law,” she asserted.
At the same time, access to areas previously reached had come to a halt, she said, with local authorities in the north-east having twice held convoys at the checkpoint with Government-controlled areas in eastern Aleppo. Changes also had been requested to the operations of non-Government partners, which, in turn, had blocked aid delivery to much of north-east Syria.
The Governor of Hassakah, for example, had refused to issue facilitation letters for deliveries and she called on parties with influence to “engage now” to foster resumed delivery. The United Nations had suspended cross-border deliveries at the two authorized border crossings in Turkey, due to rocket attacks from within Syria into that country on 20 January.
More broadly, she expressed concern for civilians in north-west Syria. Airstrikes and fighting in southern Idlib and northern Hama had resulted in 270,000 displacements since 15 December 2017. Many families had nothing but improvised tents which they shared with others, while attacks on medical facilities continued.
In Afrin, Aleppo Governorate, she said the United Nations continued to monitor 300,000 people amid fighting and reports of civilian casualties. In eastern Ghouta and parts of Damascus, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had documented 81 civilians killed.
She also expressed concern about the protection situation in Raqqa, where returns continued despite the widespread presence of explosive remnants of war. Nearly 60,000 people had reportedly returned since the end of hostilities in October 2017, but given the high prevalence of landmines, booby-traps and unexploded ordinance, the city was not safe for civilian returns.
“After years of conflict, people’s needs are as vast as they are critical,” she said. The United Nations stood ready to bolster its support, but required efficient and effective mechanisms to ensure the safe and rapid aid delivery.
To that end, the Emergency Relief Coordinator had identified five areas where the United Nations sought to make progress, she said, citing first, the $3.5 billion humanitarian response plan to help some 13 million people. It also sought: medical evacuations for critically ill people trapped in besieged eastern Ghouta; improved humanitarian access; agreement on United Nations-supported aid convoys from Damascus to Rukban in south-eastern Syria; and more effective arrangements for the United Nations to support Syrian non-governmental organizations and enable international groups to play a stronger role.
Following her briefing, Jonathan Allen (United Kingdom) expressed full support for the Emergency Coordinator’s “five asks”. However, the Council had been unable to agree that they be granted without delay. He urged Syria to allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access, pressing all those with influence to ensure that objective. Ceasefires must also be respected.
François Delattre (France) condemned attacks on health-care workers and medical infrastructure, adding that indiscriminate bombing and use of incendiary weapons could constitute war crimes. The guarantors of the Astana process must impose a halt of hostilities on the Syrian regime, while the Council must support United Nations mediation efforts in Geneva and avoid any temporary solutions decided without the Syrian opposition. It was up to countries supporting the regime, especially the Russian Federation and Iran, to end its irresponsible strategy, he said.
Lise Huberta Johanna Gregoire Van Haaren (Netherlands) said Syrian authorities were bombing citizens. They were destroying hospitals and schools, and starving their own people. The outlook for 2018 was grim amid the battle for influence among regional Powers. She called on all parties to protect civilians, facilitate humanitarian access and allow for safe passage of all people who wished to leave areas under attack. The Council must unite behind the Special Coordinator’s “five asks”.
Matthew Gregory Miller (United States) said that, “to the surprise of nobody”, cross-line deliveries to hard-to-reach and besieged areas were stalled, while “starve-and-siege” tactics were preventing aid distribution. He called for an immediate unconditional humanitarian pause in eastern Ghouta, stressing that 600 names from that on the medical evacuation list had recently grown to more than 750. The regime’s siege of eastern Ghouta was against civilians, violating international humanitarian law. Most Council members had agreed that Syria must allow medical evacuations and cross-line assistance.
Sacha Sergio Llorentty Solíz (Bolivia) called for demining efforts in Syria to begin as soon as possible, and for the political process in Geneva to be revitalized. Bolivia supported recent efforts in Vienna, as well as those under way in Sochi, Russian Federation, he said, adding that parties must allow unconditional humanitarian access and respect international humanitarian and human rights law. The Council must make every effort to guarantee unity on an issue as fundamental as humanitarian assistance.
Gustavo Meza-Cuadra (Peru) said the only way forward was to guarantee immediate, safe and unhindered humanitarian access in Syria. He expressed hope that the agreed ceasefire in eastern Ghouta would be respected and urgent attention given to the humanitarian needs of its population. Emphasizing the importance of demining and deactivation of unexploded ordinance, he said the Council must send a message that it prioritized human beings.
Anatolio Ndong Mba (Equatorial Guinea) said the Emergency Coordinator’s five requests, along with the Assistant-Secretary-General’s report today, described a devastating landscape. All efforts must be made to alleviate Syrians’ suffering. In eastern Ghouta, a thorny issue existed, with more than 600 people requiring urgent medical attention, a situation exacerbated by air attacks which had displaced people in Hama.
The meeting began at 10:34 a.m. and ended at 11:28 a.m.