Geneva (26 May 2022) - The UN Syria Commission of Inquiry warned today that it would be a failure of the highest order if the Security Council did not extend present cross-border aid to Syria. As the country faces its worst economic and humanitarian crisis since the start of the conflict, the international community must safeguard existing, life-saving cross-border assistance and increase their funding pledges to support this aid.
The current UN Security Council’s exceptional authorization for humanitarian aid delivery through the last remaining border crossing into northwest Syria expires on 10 July. Last week, Security Council members worryingly expressed opposing views on the need to extend this authorization, which has guaranteed access to desperately needed aid for millions of Syrians since 2014.
“It is a moral abomination that a Security Council resolution was in itself deemed necessary to facilitate cross-border aid in the face of consistent violations - by the Government of Syria and other parties - of their obligations under international law to allow and facilitate humanitarian relief for civilians in need,” Paulo Pinheiro, Chair of the UN Syria Commission, said.
The vote comes as humanitarian needs throughout Syria are at their highest since the start of the devastating 11-year conflict. The UN estimates that 14.6 million Syrians are now dependent on humanitarian assistance, the highest ever recorded. Across Syria, 12 million people face acute food insecurity - a staggering 51 per cent increase since 2019.
In opposition-held northwest Syria, humanitarian conditions are deteriorating due to the ongoing hostilities and a deepening economic crisis. Some 4.1 million people there rely on aid to meet their basic needs, and 80 percent of them are women and children. Through the cross-border operations authorized by the Security Council, aid reaches around 2.4 million of them every month. This lifeline is vital to the population in northwest Syria. While some aid is delivered cross-line from within Syria, these deliveries contain much smaller, insufficient quantities and are exposed to attacks along a dangerous delivery route that crosses active front lines (see the Commission’s latest report, paragraph 15 and map, Annex III).
“Aid delivery must be based only on a transparent and impartial humanitarian assessment, regardless of whether it is achieved through cross-line or cross-border modalities. All obstacles to humanitarian aid must be removed. This includes those caused by sanctions, even if unintentionally,” Commissioner Lynn Welchman said.
The UN Syria Commission also pointed to the alarming trajectory of consistent narrowing of the cross-border humanitarian aid delivery. The Security Council first adopted a resolution in 2014, authorizing the delivery of assistance into Northern Syria through four border crossings, even without the Government of Syria’s consent. Since 2020, three crossings have been excluded from the scope of the resolution, leaving Bab al-Hawa as the only remaining authorized border crossing.
“Parties to the conflict have consistently failed in their obligation to allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief for civilians in need across Syria. It is unconscionable that the discussion seems to focus on whether to close the one remaining authorized border crossing for aid, rather than how to expand access to life-saving aid across the country and through every appropriate route,” Commissioner Hanny Megally added.
Throughout its 11 years of investigating the conflict, the Commission has documented how hostilities, including attacks affecting emergency relief personnel, transport and infrastructure, as well as further violence and insecurity, have hampered the delivery of humanitarian aid throughout the country. It has also found that both the Government and non-State armed groups have repeatedly used humanitarian aid within Syria for political bargaining, and often deliberately withheld it for specific populations, particularly those under siege. Across all territories of Syria, staff members of humanitarian organisations constantly run the risk of being harassed, arbitrarily arrested and detained.
The conflict in Ukraine has not only damaged diplomatic relations and communication channels on Syria within the Security Council, it is also causing unprecedented economic hardship for Syria and its people, with skyrocketing prices coupled with shortages of wheat and other commodities. Rapidly rising unemployment is pushing ever-larger segments of the population into abject poverty.
Earlier this month, humanitarian aid organisations sounded the alarm at the EU-hosted Brussels VI Conference on Syria.
“The funds for humanitarian assistance are simply not sufficient to address the needs and protect the Syrians right now,” UN Syria Commission Chair Paulo Pinheiro said. “The international community cannot now abandon the Syrian people. They have endured 11 years of devastating conflict that has inflicted unspeakable suffering. They have never been more impoverished and in need of our help.”
For media requests, please contact Rolando Gómez at +41 (0) 22 917 9711 / firstname.lastname@example.org, Johan Eriksson, CoI Media Adviser, OHCHR, + 41(0) 76 691 0411 / email@example.com, Matthew Brown / firstname.lastname@example.org, or Pascal Sim at +41 (0) 22 917 9763 / email@example.com