It’s been nearly 11 years since the Assad regime met peaceful protests for democratic reforms in Syria with heavy artillery, barrel bombs, and poison gas. The bloody response turned non-violent demonstrations into a civil war. Since then, around 350,000 have died in the conflict. More than 12 million are internally displaced or have fled to neighboring countries. Sixty percent of the current population, more than 14 million people, need humanitarian aid, particularly this winter.
“The Syrian people grapple with freezing temperatures and inclement weather, millions need basic supplies for winter,” said U.S. Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Linda Thomas Greenfield. The situation is “exacerbated by COVID-19, the economic crisis, and the escalation in violence. Food needs are at their highest levels since the crisis began. And millions of people cannot reliably access sufficient and safe water across northern Syria. The prevalence of water-borne diseases has risen sharply,” she said.
At this time of great need, ensuring unimpeded delivery of humanitarian aid is vital. This is particularly true of medical supplies, including COVID-19 vaccines. Nonetheless, NGOs and UN aid workers have for years reported delays, interference, and restrictions placed on humanitarian aid delivery by the Assad regime. Particularly troublesome is the closing of all but one border crossing to UN humanitarian deliveries to opposition-held areas. That crossing, Bab al-Hawa, must be reauthorized by the UN Security Council in July. The Assad regime and its Russian Allies are insisting on cross-line aid delivery: that is, shipments that come through Damascus and across front lines.
The United States supports using all modalities to bring aid to the Syrian people. But because cross-line aid is a difficult and dangerous way for humanitarian agencies to access Syrians outside of regime-controlled areas, it is “a complement, and not a substitute, for cross-border aid,” said Ambassador Thomas Greenfield.
The community of nations “must work together to ensure not only that Bab al-Hawa stays open, but that all cross-border options are available to meet humanitarian needs,” said Ambassador Thomas Greenfield.
“If we put politics aside, and focus exclusively on the needs of the Syrians, this simple act would get essential items … to those who are in desperate need,” said Ambassador Thomas Greenfield.
“The humanitarian situation in Syria is a threat to international peace and security. … We must do everything in our power to ameliorate this humanitarian suffering and ground our actions in the needs of the Syrian people.”