U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday urged the U.N. Security Council to authorize more border crossings for the delivery of humanitarian aid into Syria, where an estimated 13.4 million people require assistance.
“The Security Council takes up so many challenges that are complicated, this is not one of them,” Blinken told council members. “The lives of people in Syria depend on getting urgent help. We have to do everything in our power to create ways for that aid to get to them — to open pathways, not to close them.”
The United States is president of the Security Council this month, and Blinken chaired the monthly discussion of the humanitarian situation in Syria, which entered its second decade of civil war this month.
In July, the 15-nation council will have to decide whether to renew or close the last remaining crossing point from Turkey into Syria for the transfer of humanitarian supplies. The 1,000 aid-filled trucks that cross monthly through Bab al-Hawa provide a lifeline to 4 million people in northwest Syria, which is outside of government control.
In the past 14 months, the United Nations has lost three of the four border crossings it used to bring humanitarian assistance into Syria from neighboring countries. Due to objections and obstruction from Russia and China on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad’s government at the Security Council, authorizations for those crossings were not renewed.
Russia has already signaled that it is not interested in renewing the Bab al-Hawa crossing, instead supporting the Assad regime’s demand for all aid to be distributed from Damascus across conflicts lines. But the U.N .and its aid partners say deliveries that go across internal conflict lines have been insufficient and open the door to regime interference on where the aid goes.
“The current approach is unjustified, ineffective, indefensible. It is directly resulting in the increased suffering of the Syrian people,” Blinken said. “So, let me propose a different approach, let’s reauthorize both border crossings that have been closed, and reauthorize the one border crossing that remains open. Let’s give ourselves more pathways, rather than fewer pathways, to deliver food and medicine to the Syrian people.”
The United Nations has also appealed to keep the cross-border operation running. In the past year, it says that needs in Syria have grown 20% due conflict, a currency crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Tuesday, the United Nations and the European Union will co-host a pledging conference for Syria, seeking to raise over $10 billion for humanitarian efforts.
That includes at least $4.2 billion for assistance inside Syria and $5.8 billion to support refugees and host communities in the region. Last year, the international community pledged $5.5 billion to assist needy Syrians.
The United States is the largest single contributor of humanitarian assistance in Syria.
Following the Syria meeting, Secretary Blinken met virtually with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
“Cooperation between the United Nations and the United States is indeed critical for our common work,” Guterres said ahead of their meeting. “The commitment and contribution of the United States are essential to resolve the many serious global challenges we face – starting with the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The State Department said the two discussed a number of pressing global issues, including the Syria conflict, efforts to negotiate a political settlement between the government and Taliban in Afghanistan, and the new interim government in Libya.
They also discussed the situation in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and the necessity for Eritrean forces to withdraw, as well as the need for independent, international investigations into human rights abuses.