SdeM: Let me raise some points that have been raised so far in these meetings. I cannot deny that everyone in the meeting was disappointed; indeed many of them are actually frustrated by the lack of new convoys, in particular in some areas which, as you know, have been identified as besieged areas and identified also by the various international documents. We have not been able to reach so far Douma, Daraya, east Harasta and we need to do more to Madaya, Zabadani, Kefraya and Fouah.
That does not mean – and I recognize it and we did raise it – that, meanwhile, the picture should not be completely negative, in the sense that, while we have to, and we must, insist on reaching these hard-to-reach or besieged areas, there is still a lot happening in Syria. Sometimes we tend to forget it so we did a little bit of a review: there are 5.8 million Syrian people who have been reached by the UN, NGOs, which are doing a remarkable work as well, and of course, in some places, the government as well in the areas controlled by it, every month by food – 5.8 million Syrians.
One million Syrians have been reached in January and February with non-food items, and 6.8 million have been reached every month with assistance on water and sanitation.
But that doesn’t take away what I just said at the beginning: disappointment, frustration indeed, particularly in this period we are expecting incremental improvement of reaching places which are besieged, and therefore the possibility by the task force to actually suggest, as they have been discussing, to reaching the issue at a higher level as a wakeup call in order to make sure that we don’t passively, during these meetings, just acknowledge the fact that there is no improvement. We need improvement.
Some good news, because we need to see the angle from every angle. Airdrops in Deir Ez Zor: the World Food Programme has been able to succeed with three airdrops in succession in the last one today – 26 pallets, which have all reached Deir Ez Zor, and the distribution is likely to start through SARC very soon.
The next airdrops are also likely to include not only food items but medical items, which are very much needed in the area. So far fifty-five tons have been airdropped by World Food Programme airplanes. This is quite encouraging, but also in my opinion, since I have been doing myself airdrops in my life, it is quite an achievement in view of technical problems, but also quite a beautiful combination of what international cooperation should be. We have been assisted technically and practically by Canada, the United States and the Russian Federation, working together with items and technical support. And then contributions through Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, just to mention some that are financially supporting that. That’s World Food Programme airdrops in Deir Ez Zor.
Another element that has been coming up, with some type of hope we believe, is the issue that I raised with the government of Syria about vaccinations. They are expected to start on the 24th of April. We hope that will be the case, because there are some technical reasons why it appeared to be very delayed and that would be very bad, because Syrian people need to see for their own children, wherever they are, the possibility to see this vaccination campaign in view of the reduction of the coverage and on the fact that regardless what we have been hearing in terms of tense moments in some parts, the cessation of hostilities is still holding, and therefore should be allowing the vaccination; there is no excuse to not do it.
On Palmyra, there is obviously an important signal that the international community wants to give in order to make sure that this unique place – important for the whole world – is restored as soon as possible in terms, at least, of security. There has been some updates on the demining, which has already been done by the Russian Federation. There is also a possibility with UNMAS. We had a meeting with the UN organization specialized in demining, on how they can be actually contributing to demining.
I raised the issue of medical items was raised in Damascus and it was obviously discussed again here in the task force. I did raise the issue with the authorities and they assured me that they were going to henceforth allow all medical items, except the following: surgical items atropine and anxiety pills, but would allow at our own request, caesarean surgery surgical items and all other medical items.
We, of course, need to go through that, and I hope that what I got as a promise will actually materialize and therefore that we can be able to at least report on that. We are still concerned about surgical items, which are not just for military use, but they can be and should be used for children for instance, which happen to be falling through the rubbles of incidents and would require this.
You will probably remember the last time, Jan Egeland referred to the possibility or imminent possibility of a massive medical evacuation – up to 500 people in need of medical evacuation from the four towns in particular. That has not happened, and we regret it and I do have a proposal for that. There seems to have been too much concentration of a reciprocity. You have people sick on both sides, we then evacuate one and the other.
But that’s not how life, God and things happen. People sometimes get sick, like this young man of 18 years old who died because we were not able to medically evacuate him, and the other side may not have the same case of medical emergency. So the proposal is, if you do have a case of medical emergency, to allow it to be evacuated and when there is one on the other side that would be at least equivalent. In theory we should never discuss this, it is a duty to do that. But if this is all blocked by reciprocity, let’s at least have a much more creative reciprocity for the sake of saving lives.
(Inaudible) my visit to Damascus, the government of Syria indicated to me their complaint that there is no indication of the meetings about all they are doing for humanitarian assistance to the average Syrian people. I said to them, fine, do produce a paper every week or every meeting that we have, we will certainly acknowledge it, recognize it, but it does not take away the urgency of reaching those people that we have mentioned in the besieged areas and all those issues that are still pending such as the medical aspect.
There was also a reference with great sadness to the killing of a medical doctor who, in Hama, was killed by a target rocket, missile or whatever it was, but to kill a man who has been actively involved in supporting the medical facility in Hama and that was brought to the attention sadly of the Humanitarian [Access] Task Force.
Q: Mr. Egeland told us a couple of days ago that the Syrian regime does not allow the humanitarian aid to be delivered in some sieged towns. Do you consider airdrops to Daraya, such as Deir Ez Zor? My second question: is there any progress on releasing detainees?
SdeM: The issue of airdrops to Daraya was raised by one member of the Task Force today, and perhaps supported even by another, and it did come up, and we didn’t debate it further, but we did hear that possibility or proposal or idea coming up from one member of the Task Force. Regarding the detainees, I did raise it when I was in Damascus, and we are going to have a constant focus not only on detainees, frankly, but also on the release of those who have been abducted. And, as I told you and promised, we will have a special focus on this, because it has become and is an area that no one should abandon. It is complicated for many reasons, but that does not mean that we should not be continuing to push for some type of movement on that.
Obviously, the best way to avoid issues to be raised such as airdrops, which are expensive, have a problem of sovereignty, have a problem of security, would be doing the easiest thing, a convoy by land to Douma, which is not far.
Q: (In Arabic) The government claims that a lot of the humanitarian assistance provided goes to the terrorists. And even the Russian Federation said that some of the convoys get shot at by these terrorists, especially the convoy in Harasta, which, as you said, is close to Dumas. How do you deal with these situations?
SdeM: Well, I heard similar incidents, and frankly that is where the Task Force is useful. We had some problems for instance for SARC, which had some problems with the armed opposition which was opposing some of the movements of SARC. And thanks to the Task Force, that was resolved. Bottom line: when there is a problem like the one you mentioned, the Task Force as it is addressing through the support of the Russian Federation and others the government, the rest of the Task Force should be addressing and can address problems coming from the armed opposition or whoever has been fighting. The bottom line being: Syrian people should be reached everywhere, and we should try to use the Task Force for this purpose.
Q: After three successful airdrops in Deir Ez Zor, how does it work the distribution of the aid? How is, if I can say that (maybe not), the collaboration with the Islamic State in the distribution for the civilians of this aid? Are you sure that the aid is getting to the people, to the civilians?
SdeM: Well, first of all, the Islamic State, which we call Da’esh, as you know, has no say and should have no say on the distribution in Deir Ez Zor, especially when the pallets have successful reached the city of Deir Ez Zor, which is still, and I hope will remain, under the control of the government and not of Da’esh.
Now, the distribution – those who are involved in the distribution, by the way, all the pallets have reached directly inside the city this time, it’s been quite successful, in spite of the strong wind, but this is being distributed by SARC, with close coordination and monitoring through SARC, by the World Food Programme.
These airdrops are meant for Deir Ez Zor. Now, if people, Syrian people, who happen to be under the control of territory of Da’esh come and ask for the help, and come to Deir Ez Zor, I’m sure that since all Syrians should not be penalized by what is the current security environment, [they] will be receiving aid, but this should not be given to Da’esh.