Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ms. Ursula Mueller: Statement to the Security Council on Syria (25 April 2018)

from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Published on 25 Apr 2018

New York, New York 25 April 2018

As delivered

Thank you, Mr. President,

As we speak, the second Brussels Conference on “Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region” is reaching its conclusion. The meeting, hosted by the European Union and co-chaired by the United Nations, has been an important opportunity to renew and strengthen the commitment of the international community to the people of Syria. The Conference reconfirmed the importance of delivering needs-based humanitarian assistance to all civilians, in line with humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. Significant funds are being raised in support of this goal.

The commitments being made in Brussels come at a critical time, as the needs inside Syria could not be higher. Of the 13.1 million people in need some 5.6 million are in acute need. Despite UN Security Council Resolution 2401, attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure have reached some of the highest levels since the conflict began. In the first three months of 2018 the United Nations has verified 72 attacks on health facilities – compared to 112 attacks in all of 2017. At the same time cross-line access remains extremely constricted, with only five convoys deploying so far in 2018. A strong response from Member States has never been more in need.

Mr. President,

Over 160,000 people left eastern Ghouta between 9 March and 15 April following weeks of fighting. Of these, 92,000 went to sites for internally displaced in Rural Damascus. Nearly 45,000 of these people remain at the sites, which are at nearly double their capacity. The UN and partners are responding to the mounting humanitarian needs of those displaced with food, shelter, health and other assistance and protection services.

However, assistance alone is not enough –additional sites are urgently needed to be made functional to ensure adequate living space for all internally displaced persons. Approximately 71,000 people were transported to northwest Syria since mid-March from eastern Ghouta and eastern Qalamoun. In Idleb, lack of accommodation, continued fighting and insecurity are ongoing challenges. The last movements saw people accommodated in the Euphrates Shield area of northern Aleppo. Humanitarian access to these areas remains limited, however, and subject to the restrictions imposed by the local authorities in place.

While eastern Ghouta is no longer besieged as it has come under the control of the Government of Syria, the UN has not yet been granted access to Duma, where an estimated 70,000 individuals remain in dire need of humanitarian assistance after years of besiegement and months under intensified shelling and airstrikes. The United Nations was last permitted to reach Duma over a month ago, on 15 March, with food assistance only for 26,100 individuals. The UN also requires urgent access to formerly besieged areas of Nashabieh, Kafr Batna, Saqba and Hammouryeh where we expect needs to be great. In and around eastern Ghouta alone there is currently a funding gap of USD $95 million to assist the population in need.

Late last week, hostilities between Government forces and ISIL in the besieged area of Yarmouk and neighbouring areas, has resulted in reports of civilian casualties and destruction of civilian infrastructure. The access points for over 66,000 people in need are virtually closed. The UN stands ready to deliver humanitarian assistance to people in need in southern Damascus areas but the required approvals and guarantees of safe passage are necessary.

At the same time, there has been an alarming escalation of violence between Government forces and non-State armed opposition groups in northern rural Homs and southern Hama governorate impacting an estimated 210,000 people in the area. The UN has received reports of airstrikes and ground-based strikes resulting in scores of civilian casualties, destruction of civilian infrastructure and displacement. This comes amidst reports of negotiations for a localized agreement between the parties to the conflict.

Mr. President,

In Idleb governorate, the situation remains catastrophic, with almost 400,000 people displaced since mid-December, in addition to tens of thousands who were displaced from eastern Ghouta and eastern Qalamoun. There are simply no more sites or shelters available for the vast majority of new arrivals. There has been a 25 percent increase in Idleb’s displaced population as compared to one year ago, with 1.2 million of the 2 million people in the governorate now displaced, many of them multiple times. This extreme situation places incredible pressure on the host communities. In addition, in recent weeks, air strikes have hit hospitals and markets, and have come very close to IDP shelters, reportedly killing scores of civilians, including many women and children. Fighting between Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and other non-State armed opposition groups have added further insecurity. Relief organizations are providing assistance including health, clean water and sanitation and education. In order to sustain the assistance, funding is needed.

Mr. President,

In Aleppo governorate, between mid-January and mid-March, an estimated 137,000 people were displaced by hostilities in Afrin district in Aleppo governorate. The majority of people fled to Tal Refaat and surrounding areas. Freedom of movement remains an issue for those who have been displaced. Many internally displaced people reportedly continue to be prevented from moving on to Aleppo city, and people with medical referrals currently have to wait up to 15 days for clearance to travel to Aleppo City for medical care. While there have been some reports of returns taking place to Afrin, the movement back to Afrin also remains extremely limited as people are allegedly prevented from returning. The UN and its partners have scaled up the response to the displaced with regular deliveries to the area. Between 2 and 4 April, through cross-border operations from Turkey, UN agencies sent food assistance for over 20,000 people, as well as health and other items in critical need. Sustained access to those in Afrin is needed.

Mr. President,

On 1 April the UN undertook an assessment mission to Raqqa. Since ISIL was forced out of Raqqa in October, nearly 100,000 people have returned to Raqqa city. However, conditions are not conducive for returns, due to the high levels of unexploded ordnance and improvised explosive device contamination, widespread and severe infrastructural damage, and a lack of basic services. Every week, there have been over 50 casualties reported due to remnants of war. An estimated 70-80 percent of all buildings inside Raqqa city are destroyed or damaged.

While public services are slowly resuming, with bakeries opening and limited access to health services, the city lacks electricity and mobile communications, and water is only pumped at a very limited capacity to the outskirts of the city. Up to 95 percent of households who have returned to Raqqa are food insecure. Some schools have reopened, though they are lacking school materials and other supplies. Following the 1 April assessment, UN agencies are planning deliveries to compliment the ongoing activities of humanitarian organizations already active inside Raqqa. It will also complement the response for those displaced and in need across north-east Syria where nearly 900,000 people receive assistance each month.

Mr. President,

50,000 people in Rukban along the Syria-Jordan border remain in critical need of assistance, having last been provided aid from Jordan in January. The ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent received permission from the Syrian authorities on 8 March to organize a humanitarian convoy from Damascus and on 19 March, the UN received permission to join the mission. Initially, the humanitarian operation was conceived as a “drop-off” operation, with aid distributed by local leaders. More recently, discussions have included entering the camp to deliver assistance directly to the people. The UN continues to work closely with the United States and the Russian Federation to make this possible to ensure that those in need can safely receive the aid they desperately need. At the same time basic health services and water continue to be provided from Jordan.

Mr. President,

After seven years of conflict that continues to see escalation after escalation, the needs of Syrians have never been higher. The Brussels conference showed the clear resolve of the international community to place Syria at the top of their agenda and to ensure that immediate life-saving assistance is available to all in need. However, those commitments must now turn into concrete action. Security Council Resolution 2401 needs to be urgently implemented. The resolution highlights a number of areas for implementation, but let me highlight three in particular where I believe progress is possible now:

First, we need to see firm steps taken to ensure that all parties respect the rules of war. Civilians must be provided protection, with constant care taken to spare them and the infrastructure they rely on. Attacks on hospitals in particular must end. The wounded and the sick must be afforded the treatment and care they need.

Second, safe, sustained and unimpeded access to all in need must be ensured so that aid can reach those in need. This means that facilitation letters must be issued, allowing cross-line convoys to deploy every week, while at the same time we must see access to areas that recently changed control open up for regular deliveries.

Third, when convoys deploy, medical items must stop being removed. There is no reason why items previously agreed with the authorities for delivery are removed at the last minute. These are critical life-saving items, and they must be allowed on our trucks.

To quote the Secretary General in his opening remarks in a video message at the Syria Conference “At the recent retreat just a few days ago in Sweden, I sensed a strong commitment to humanitarian access – and to overcoming the obstacles to the delivery of aid to all Syrians.”

We owe it to the people of Syria to build on the momentum and see concrete improvements on the ground.

Thank you, Mr President.

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