Don’t Leave Them Alone: The future of the cross-border response in north west Syria

Originally published



Since December 2019, nearly a million people have left their homes in southern Idlib and western Aleppo following the significant escalation of violence, nearly 840,000 of those are still displaced.

The majority of newly displaced Syrians sought safety in densely populated areas and camps by the Turkish – Syrian border in north west Idlib, as well as in northern Aleppo. This has significantly strained an overstretched humanitarian response and forced humanitarian actors to relocate many of their services from areas that have become either within or in close proximity of conflict lines.

Humanitarian conditions in north west Syria are dire. More than 2.8 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, the majority of which is brought in the country through the cross-border modality via two crossings named in the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2504. In fact, the months of March, April and May recorded the highest number of aid transhipments into Syria with 1,486, 1,365 and 1,781 trucks carrying life-saving assistance entering north west Syria during these months respectively.

With the current economic downturn the region is witnessing due to the rapid devaluation of the Syrian Pound, reduction in remittance and lack of access to income-generating activities, aid actors predict that the humanitarian situation will worsen, making the life-saving assistance provided through the cross-border modality a vital lifeline for the civilian populations in north west Syria.

In the first quarter of 2020, the UN led cross-border assistance reached 2.87 million people in north west Syria through a total of 3.03 million interventions across various sectors including food security and livelihoods, shelter, non-food items, health, education and protection. This assistance has covered people in more than 856 communities across 72 subdistricts in north west Syria. The UN plays a pivotal role in the cross-border response in north west Syria. In addition to overseeing the dispersing of the Syria Cross-border Humanitarian Fund to humanitarian partners, UN agencies lead the primary coordination clusters and provide logistical and technical support to humanitarian actors on the ground.

This leadership and support are now more critical than ever amid the rising concerns of a COVID-19 outbreak, which could threaten the lives of millions of people stuck in overcrowded shelters and displacement camps. To this end, the humanitarian response across north west Syria is overstretched and underfunded, a non-renewal of UNSCR 2504 could be detrimental to the lives of more than four million people across north west Syria. Additionally, many humanitarian actors who rely on funding provided through this mechanism will likely become unable to continue meeting the exponentially growing needs in north west Syria.

Any loss of access at this time will be all the more problematic due to increased concerns of a COVID-19 outbreak in north west Syria, particularly in light of the acute lack of readiness and preparedness to mitigate or contain such an outbreak.

This report provides insights on the humanitarian situation on the ground, through information aggregated by first-line humanitarian responders. The report presents an account of the acuteness of needs in north west Syria, and shows the critical function that humanitarian actors operating through the cross-border modality serve in alleviating the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people in need across the region. The figure is a sectoral summary of the below shows the cross-border humanitarian reach and activities from Turkey.