Assistant-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ms. Ursula Mueller, Statement to the Security Council on Syria, 30 January 2018
New York, 30 January 2018
Thank you, Mr. President.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide an update on the humanitarian situation in Syria.
Years of conflict have caused immeasurable human suffering and left countless civilians dead, injured or missing. The United Nations estimates that 13.1 million people are in need of protection and humanitarian assistance, including 6.1 million people who are displaced within the country. Another 5.5 million people have fled the conflict across borders into neighbouring countries.
You will have heard the first-hand account of the Emergency Relief Coordinator on 22 January, in his statement to the Security Council on his visit to Syria, highlighting the plight of the Syrian people. During the visit, he heard individual stories from some of the affected people caught up in violence and conflict. In Homs, he saw entire districts of the city reduced to rubble.
The visit, which was the first for an Emergency Relief Coordinator in over two years, it was an important opportunity to see ways in which the United Nations can support people in need. It was also a chance to hold discussions with the Government of Syria and our humanitarian partners on how to address some of the most pressing humanitarian needs.
As fighting continues, I am particularly concerned for the safety and protection of civilians caught up in the violence in north-west Syria, where hostilities have reportedly caused numerous deaths and injuries. Airstrikes and fighting in southern Idleb and northern Hama have resulted in over 270,000 displacements since 15 December, driving people from their homes to other areas of Idleb. Camps for the displaced are overstretched, forcing most of those displaced to seek shelter in some 160 makeshift settlements. During these cold and wet winter months, many families have nothing else than improvised tents which they share with others. Attacks on medical facilities and vital infrastructure continue, with reports of at least 16 attacks on health care facilities during the month of December alone. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reported yesterday that airstrikes hit a hospital they support in the Saqarab district of Idleb, causing five deaths, injuring others, and seriously damaging the facility. This was the second strike reported on the facility in nine days.
Further north, in Afrin, Aleppo governorate, the United Nations is carefully monitoring the situation of over 300,000 people living in the district that is witnessing fighting. We have reports of civilian casualties and that some 15,000 people have been displaced within the district, and another 1,000 have been displaced to Aleppo governorate. We have also received reports that local authorities inside Afrin are restricting civilian movement, particularly for those who want to leave the district.
I am also concerned about the situation in Eastern Ghouta and areas of Damascus where civilian deaths and destruction of civilian infrastructure continue to be reported. In the first ten days of this year, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) documented at least 81 civilians killed in the enclave, including 25 women and 30 children. Scores of residential buildings in the area have been damaged and destroyed in recent weeks. I also note with concern that shelling continues from Eastern Ghouta into Damascus, resulting in civilian deaths and injuries.
Although 29 patients in urgent need of medical care were allowed out of Eastern Ghouta in late December, hundreds more, most of them women and children, require immediate medical attention. So far, there have been 21 civilian deaths among those waiting and needing medical evacuation. Their needs are critical, and the law is clear. I urge all parties, and all those with influence over the parties, to see to it that all such medical evacuations take place without conditions and without delay.
With reference to all the flashpoints I have highlighted, I call on the parties to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian and medical infrastructure in line with international humanitarian law, and to ensure safe, sustained and unimpeded delivery of humanitarian assistance to all in need.
I would also like to take this opportunity to reiterate my concern about the protection situation in Raqqa city, where returns continue despite the widespread presence of explosive remnants of war. Nearly 60,000 individuals have reportedly returned since the end of hostilities in October 2017. However, humanitarian partners continue to emphasize that given the high prevalence of landmines, booby traps and unexploded ordinance, Raqqa city is not safe for civilian returns.
Deaths and injuries due to explosions have been reported with alarming frequency and trauma cases nearly doubled in recent months. More than 534 civilians have been injured in blasts since the expulsion of ISIL from the city in October 2017, of whom 112 people died. Each week, between 30 and 50 civilians continue to arrive at trauma centres in Raqqa city after being wounded by improvised explosive devices concealed in their homes and neighbourhoods.
Risk from explosive hazards is not limited to Raqqa city; there are indications that substantial contamination also exists throughout Deir Ez-Zor governorate, where there has been little or no mine surveying or clearance.
Despite the desperate humanitarian needs in many areas in Syria, the United Nations and humanitarian partners continue to face serious challenges in accessing those in need. Last month I briefed this Council that none of our cross-line convoys were able to reach besieged locations, and only two convoys accessed hard-to-reach areas. This month, in January, the United Nations and partners have had no access to any such locations at all. Not one convoy has been able to deploy. Discussions about convoys have stalled over requirements to lower the number of beneficiaries, and splitting convoys in a way that would not allow us to provide food or other essential items. Our deliveries must continue to be based on humanitarian principles and international humanitarian law, impartially based on civilian need.
At the same time, the United Nations is also seeing access to areas previously reached under regular programming coming to a halt. The local authorities in north-east Syria have twice held humanitarian convoys at the checkpoint with government-controlled areas in eastern Aleppo. Furthermore, local authorities have requested changes related to the operations of our NGO partners, which in turn has blocked our assistance delivery to much of north-east Syria. The situation has been further compounded by the refusal of the governor of Hassakah to issue facilitation letters for our deliveries. While the cross-border operations of our partners continue, such assistance is not sufficient to meet the needs in the north-east. To solve this situation, I call on all parties and those with influence over them to engage now to see access to these areas resume.
Finally, due to insecurity in the north-west, which has included numerous rocket attacks from within Syria into Turkey, on 20 January the United Nations temporarily suspended cross-border deliveries at the two authorized border crossing points in Turkey. The United Nations remains in discussion with the Turkish authorities on restarting operations as quickly as possible to ensure the continued delivery of assistance, which hundreds of thousands of Syrians rely upon every month.
These access challenges underscore the importance of using all modalities of delivery at our disposal. Despite prevailing challenges, the United Nations and its partners have continued to reach millions of people in need each month. For example, in December, regular programming from within the country resulted in the delivery of humanitarian assistance to millions of people, including over three million people who received food assistance through 1,500 deliveries. The United Nations and its partners also provided health, protection and education services, as well as protection support. Cross-border assistance also continued to reach hundreds of thousands of people in need, as 653 trucks delivered food assistance to more than 500,000 people, health assistance for over 600,000 treatments, as well as other support for hundreds of thousands.
After years of conflict, people’s needs are as vast as they are critical. The United Nations and its partners will continue to deliver to millions of people in need. The United Nations also stands ready to bolster such support, but requires efficient and effective mechanisms to ensure the safe and rapid delivery of aid. Toward this end, the Emergency Relief Coordinator has identified five areas where the United Nations is looking to make concrete progress.
First, to finalize the UN’s humanitarian response plan for 2018, for which we will be seeking $3.5 billion to meet the needs of more than 13 million people in all parts of Syria.
Second, to see an agreement to medical evacuations for hundreds of critically ill people trapped in besieged Eastern Ghouta. People in other besieged areas should get the same assistance.
Third, humanitarian access needs to improve. The United Nations has requested agreement for three to four United Nations and Syrian Arab Red Crescent inter-agency cross-line convoys each week. We need consistent access to all people in need.
Fourth, to reach agreement on United Nations supported aid convoys from Damascus to Rukban in south-eastern Syria. While the exceptional delivery of assistance from Jordan in early January was a positive development, a sustainable solution is required.
Fifth, more effective arrangements to enable the UN to support the work of Syrian non-governmental organizations, and to enable international NGOs to play the stronger role they can and are ready to play in relieving the suffering.
I hope that we will be able to report back to you next month on real progress achieved in these five key areas, and that month after month we will move forward until they are all fully addressed.
Thank you, Mr. President.