Accessibility links

Breaking News

Aid Will Flow Through Winter to Syrians in Northwest

FILE - A convoy transporting humanitarian aid crosses into Syria from Turkey through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing on July 8, 2022.

The United Nations Security Council unanimously renewed a vital cross-border aid operation Monday for another six months, extending a lifeline to millions of Syrians residing in areas outside government control during winter. But there were calls for the council to do more.

“Today’s vote allows the Syrian people to breathe a sigh of relief,” U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said. “But while this lifeline will continue to operate, so much more could have been done. And so much more still needs to be done.”

She and other members said six months is inadequate and a one-year extension is needed for the U.N. and its partners to plan, procure aid and hire staff.

Monday’s renewal came hours before the mechanism was due to expire.

Since its creation in July 2014, renewal of the mechanism that currently allows trucks to cross only a single border gate from Turkey into northwest Syria has become increasingly contentious. Since 2019, Russia, with the backing of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, has repeatedly succeeded in whittling down the number of crossing points from four to one, and has threatened to use its veto to completely shut down the operation.

More than 4 million Syrians live in the area where the aid is distributed. Humanitarians reach about 2.4 million of them each month.

While Russia went along with Monday’s extension, Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the decision had been difficult. He signaled that the next renewal would not be automatic.

“Expectations for the new six-month extension in July will only be borne out if the view and approach of members of the Security Council to the provision of humanitarian assistance in Syria will fundamentally change,” he said, accusing the West of using aid for political leverage on the Assad regime. He also called for the lifting of western sanctions on Syria.

Syria and Russia prefer humanitarians to deliver aid internally from Damascus across conflict front lines instead of across external borders.

The U.N. says such crossline operations currently only complement cross-border ones and cannot match it in size and scope. In 2022, there were just nine crossline aid convoys, while cross-border aid volume is at about 600 trucks per month. On Sunday, the first crossline convoy of 2023 went from Aleppo to Sarmada in the northwest, carrying 600 metric tons of aid.

“Humanitarian access across Syria, including through cross-border and crossline operations, must be expanded and humanitarian activities be broadened through investment in early recovery projects,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ spokesman said.

After more than a decade of conflict, Syrians are suffering from a collapsed economy and skyrocketing inflation, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and a cholera outbreak.

The U.N. says a record 15.3 million Syrians will need humanitarian assistance this year, the most at any time since the civil war started in 2011.

Brazil and Switzerland took over the Syria humanitarian file on the council this month, following the departure of temporary council members Ireland and Norway on December 31. They steered the renewals for the past two years and helped negotiate the text that the current council approved Monday before handing it over to the new penholders.

“Today, the Security Council stood united behind the imperative to address humanitarian needs in Syria,” Swiss Ambassador Pascale Baeriswyl told reporters after the vote. “It has responded to the U.N. agencies and their partners and to their consistent appeal to the international community to keep the cross-border mechanism operational. This is particularly urgent in the midst of harsh winter and an evolving cholera outbreak.”

Aid agencies also responded.

“The successive failure of the U.N. Security Council to seize upon its responsibility to create a more sustainable means to reduce suffering and improve prospects for generations blighted by this horrific conflict is shocking,” said Brenda Mofya, head of office in New York for Oxfam.

“We are relieved that the Security Council has voted to renew the cross-border resolution for Syria,” David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, said in a statement. “Over 2 million Syrians in the northwest of the country are reliant on the mechanism every month for food, water, medicine, shelter and basic services. Knowing this assistance will continue is a small reprieve for families struggling to survive.”

But he cautioned that cross-border assistance is “still absolutely essential” to saving lives and would continue to be in six-months' time.