I was away yesterday for personal family reasons, so my apologies if I could not be with you yesterday. But we all have a family too and sometimes we do have a coincidence of urgent family issues to address and I had to do so, so my apologies. Nothing political, no significance on that, no reasons except my own family.
We have - and I am representing Jan Egeland, who was connected on the phone with us- we have an analysis, which I think is quite important today because it is linked also on the whole feeling on how all this is moving, in other words, the cessation of hostilities, the humanitarian progress and the linkages to the progress on a political dialogue.
By the way, tomorrow I will have an opportunity to meet all of you, as I promised, on the afternoon, in order to discuss the issue of the next steps, because as you remember I said I was going to review the situation and explain it to you tomorrow, so today no discussion on that.
So let me address now the humanitarian taskforce. According to the analysis that was done, there has been a modest, but real progress regarding the humanitarian situation in Syria, and I will elaborate on that. Modest but real.
The figures are the ones that you are familiar with, I will just show them to you again, figures speak better than comments so I will read them to you but here they are. So, so far, 560,000 people have been reached, between hard-to-reach areas and besieged areas. Which means that about 220,000 people in the besieged areas have been so far reached, which is more or less half the people of the besieged areas. So how many besieged areas have we been so far able to reach? 12, out of 18. So 6 are still not reached. Some have been reached several times, to the point of being now sustained and reached.
Again about modest progress let me mention something that, for those who were evacuated, was not modest at all. 515 people were medically evacuated yesterday, simultaneously from Zabadani, Madaya, Kefraya and Foah. It was done through the very active participation of SARC with a lot of homework done by the UN. There was only one precedent of a similar type of equation by air, if you remember, but this is the largest so far, after that one.
Another modest but real progress is the fact that Khawla Mattar - a woman, I want to underline, because we should remember that when we have the privilege of having courageous colleagues like here - led a convoy for the first time since 2012 to Darayya. As you know Darayya has become a symbol of inaccessibility and you have heard it so many times. That's why we used the “ice-breaker” approach, in other words, one small fact-finding mission in order to open the opportunity for humanitarian convoy. There were many different versions: there are no civilians, there are many civilians, there are people who are fighters, all that was actually one of the purposes of the mission to find out the real situation.
Her report is certainly a wake-up call. And there are children there are civilians and there is a need for food and medicine. And we will, together with, hopefully everyone who has been helping us, in particularly I must say, and give credit to the Russian Federation, who had been certainly arguing very much in favor of this UN convoy to Darayya. We will follow-up on this. It is clear we cannot stop at simply a fact finding, there is a need to follow-up.
Deir ez-Zor: we have now eight successful unprecedented, from that type of altitude, about 5,000-6000 meters, high altitude air dropping which has been reaching now to an estimated 65,000 people according to World Food Programme (WFP). And we have learnt from WFP that they are planning now to double their own level of air dropping. To do so they will be requiring more funds, but I hope there will be no problem because for an operation like that, which is quite unique and can be replicated elsewhere, funds should not be a problem.
Vaccinations: The plan is still on for reaching, as you know , about 800,000 children in one area and 1.4 million in another. I am starting on the 24th of April, God willing.
This is what we call modest but real progress.
Now the concerns: on the medical items, we are not yet there. Items like dialysis equipment and some medical facilities have been allowed through. But we have discovered again that vitamins, antibiotics, pain killers, surgical items, basic medical kits have not been allowed by the Ministry of Health in Syria the other day when they were supposed to go by convoy. And this is not only worrisome but unacceptable according to international law.
Even the worst enemies should allow this and by the way most of them, if not all, are Syrians among themselves, so these medical items have become an urgent priority of request from the humanitarian taskforce in particular to the government of Syria.
That of course applies to all besieged areas including Kefraya and Foah, not only those besieged by the government.
The Humanitarian Taskforce also addressed problems caused by the armed opposition. In particular the access by SARC, which we saw is quite an effective organization for instance in evacuation, to reach and start working again in Azaz and Eastern Aleppo.
Detainees: On the detainees issue, we have announced today to the Humanitarian Taskforce that I will nominating , you know we have a minimum of administrative bureaucracy here, will nominate a very effective person, full time as a technical senior person, working with my team, on detainees and abducted people, and that will be announced in the next few days.
Bottom line there has been modest but real progress, not enough to make us comfortable at all.
Bottom line, the humanitarian Taskforce is very much involved in pushing this to become more solid.
And bottom line, if humanitarian aid increases, as should be, and the cessation of hostilities goes back into what we consider a hopeful mood, that will certainly help the political discussions.
I am ready for questions:
Q: Is there a time frame for when this medical evacuation operation will be completed? And will there be similar step regarding the detainees?
SdeM: Well first of all this operation has been according to some a breakthrough, certainly it has been the largest evacuation we could do on the medical side. There will be more and we will be insisting on more and in several other places because the sick people and wounded people deserve to be treated in a different way, from both sides. So we will pursue it.
Regarding detainees, it is a different environment. The detainees and the abducted people are many, particularly detainees, and it is a very delicate issue. You know very well that there have been some rumors that when you actually mention the name of a detainee, then that detainee disappears, whereas a sick person will not disappear if you mention his or her name. So that type of concern is something that we need to be aware of when we work, so we are using all possible methods, some more discrete, some more public.
Q: You spoke about 560,000 people you were able to reach 220,000 of them, what about the Syrian people who suffer unjust sanctions?
SdeM: Well, you see, there are three layers of priorities, you would be doing that obviously even in normal environment. The first, people who need to be saved, those who are in immediate threat of life, those who were starving, or are very wounded. You do that with an ambulance. And the same in a city. The second group, is definitely (those) who are difficult to reach and those (who) are hard to reach. But we all recognize that all Syrian people, all Syrian people, after five years of conflict, that's why there has been so many refugees, will need a better improvement of their own aid and the aim of the UN is of course to reach all the people. But first things first, those who are in particular need, needs to be reached, but we are moving and therefore there is an argument for going beyond that.
Q. Sir, you just come out of the Humanitarian Taskforce and going into the Cessation of Hostilities Taskforce, and I understand you’ve met with the Russian delegation earlier, have you been able to raise the issue of Russian artillery moving into the Northern Syria, as has been reported today, do have concerns about that? Will you be bringing this up with the cessation of hostilities Taskforce meeting later today?
SdeM. Well, I have unfortunately no comments to make on that because a) I didn't get those information myself while we were at the Humanitarian taskforce meeting and b)because I am sure if that is an issue that is confirmed it will be raised at the cessation of hostilities taskforce which is exactly the one to discuss this. Sorry but I do not have any comments on that.
Tomorrow we will see each other and talk about the political discussion and the progress on the political transition, will have more to tell you. Thank you.