U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council Monday that it is a “moral imperative” for members to renew an aid operation from Turkey into northwest Syria that assists more than 4 million people.
“It is a moral imperative to address the suffering and vulnerability of 4.1 million people in the area who need aid and protection,” he said. “Eighty percent of those in need in northwest Syria are women and children.”
The 15-nation council must decide by July 10 whether to extend the authorization for the United Nations and its humanitarian partners. Humanitarian groups reach 2.4 million Syrians in the nongovernment-controlled northwest each month with vital assistance through the Bab al-Hawa crossing from Turkey.
Russia has loudly signaled for some time that it would like to do away with the eight-year-old cross-border mechanism and has turned the annual renewal into a fraught exercise inside the council, which leaves aid agencies and recipients in a stressful limbo.
Moscow has previously used its veto, or the threat of it, to whittle down the operation from four crossing points to one. It remains to be seen how divisions caused by Moscow’s war in Ukraine may impact the council’s negotiations.
Crossline vs. cross-border
Damascus and Moscow want all aid to go through the regime.
“We are absolutely convinced that organizing in coordination with Damascus is possible to all regions of Syria,” Russian deputy envoy Dmitry Polyanskiy told the council, adding, once “Bab al-Hawa is closed,” crossline deliveries could increase.
Hundreds of trucks cross each month from Turkey into northwest Syria with food for 1.8 million people. By comparison, just five crossline convoys have reached the Northwest this year, each carrying food for 43,000 people.
China’s envoy also signaled Beijing may not support an extension.
“A clear timeline should be set for the termination of cross-border delivery and for the transition to the crossline approach promoted accordingly,” Ambassador Zhang Jun said. “China hopes that the members of the council will, through dialogue and consultation, find a viable solution for the arrangement after the expiration of resolution 2585.”
Resolution 2585 contains the authorization for the cross-border mechanism and expires July 10.
Population on the brink
After more than a decade of war, a pandemic and an economic crisis, 90% of Syrians now live below the poverty line.
“People are living on the brink, no longer able to cope,” Guterres said.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield visited the Bab al-Hawa crossing earlier this month to assess the situation.
“I have rarely seen such desperation in the eyes of the aid workers, who were unsure whether they’ll be able to continue to deliver food, medicine and other critical aid to those who need it most,” she said.
The United Nations has made it clear that it wants the cross-border operation renewed for another year. The organization also hopes crossline deliveries within Syria can be scaled up.
“While increasing crossline assistance was an important achievement, in the present circumstances it is not at the scale needed to replace the massive cross-border response,” the secretary-general said. He added that all aid channels should be kept open.
The heads of six U.N. humanitarian agencies, including the World Food Program, issued a joint appeal last week, calling on the council to renew the mandate.
“Our priority and only goal is to get humanitarian aid to families who need it in the safest, most direct and efficient way, away from political calculations or agendas,” they wrote.
The United Nations says 14.6 million Syrians need humanitarian assistance, of which 12 million are food insecure. The organization has appealed for $10 billion this year to assist people both inside the country and those who have fled. The U.N. says nothing short of a permanent cease-fire will end the suffering.