Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, Briefing to the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria, 27 January 2022


New York, 27 January 2022

As delivered

I start by saying how extremely concerned we are, and I am sure we all are, about the hundreds of children trapped in a terrifying prison siege in Al-Hasakeh. It is of critical importance that all children are accounted for, evacuated to safety, and supported.

But even if they leave the prison, their future is uncertain. They are not out of danger. Their chance of a family life, or a return to any kind of normal, is remote. They need to recover. They need to reintegrate into their communities. And they need to rebuild their lives.

As Henrietta Fore of UNICEF has said, the children in that prison should never have been there in the first place.

And their predicament, if I may, echoes that of the whole country, which should never have faced such suffering. And that’s the situation that we see now.

Many more Syrian girls and boys are shivering. In tents. In the snow. Others stuck in displacement camps or detention facilities, with little hope of getting out. And millions more, lucky enough to have housing and be with their families, are still missing out on a healthy diet and reliable schooling.

As the country moves further into its second decade of conflict, and as I have said before, we are failing the Syrian people, young and old.

If civilians were protected, sufficient relief provided, and basic social services kept going, we could say we are providing a bare minimum. But we are not even managing that, I regret to say.

Failure each year cannot be our strategy.

This year, we have to lighten the load on Syrian civilians, and I urge you to work with the UN and other key humanitarian agencies on a new approach.

Madam President,

Hotspots in the conflict continue to claim civilian lives.

On 20 January, six civilians, including four children, were killed when missiles landed in Afrin City.

The support systems for everyday life are at risk. Another air strike in early January severely damaged the water station servicing Idleb City.

The attack on a prison in Al-Hasakeh – these appalling events of recent days – and its aftermath is another vivid reminder, if we needed it, of how volatile other parts of the country still are.

It’s also a chilling reminder of the threat of ISIL.

In Al-Hol camp, meanwhile, violence continues. On 11 January, a Syrian health worker was killed. Another doctor was injured the next day. We need to do better to keep camp residents and humanitarian workers safe. Above all, we need durable solutions for the people living in the camps, including the safe repatriation of all third-country nationals and, first and foremost, children.

I reiterate my simple message, Madam President: civilians, especially children, and civilian objects must be protected.

On top of the effects of conflict, unusually bitter winter storms last week left a trail of destruction. Thousands of tents were damaged in camps in the north-west – tents where people have been living for so many years.

Displaced people are burning garbage to stay warm, and risk asphyxiation sheltering from sub-zero temperatures in those tents.

One child was reported to have died when snow collapsed on a tent; I can’t imagine that.

In the last month, at least 24 people were injured and 2 died due to tent fires.

People shouldn’t have to suffer like this every winter. We could and should get them the support they need. A different kind of housing, even if it’s temporary.

But, with current funding, we can help only half of the over 4 million people across Syria who need protection from the elements and the basics of survival.

Meanwhile, the economic crisis continues to deepen.

Food is getting ever more expensive. The cost of an average food basket has reached new highs in every one of the last four months, each month going higher.

Domestic food production is also a concern. And FAO reports that wheat production dropped by over 60 per cent in 2021, in a single year.

While needs are increasing, international aid resources are declining. Despite the generosity of many Member States here, including your own, Madam President, the food aid we provide to millions of people each month is just not enough.

Despite, however, these daunting circumstances, and this sad and tragic picture that I have been trying to depict, we can continue to make a difference with smart funding and creative humanitarian efforts.

For example, we run early recovery projects to support food production, so that we can reduce dependency on food aid. FAO is expanding irrigation projects along the Euphrates River specifically with such an objective. Expanding early recovery projects – and we have seen the reference to them in 2585 – is crucial.

We continue to reach people in need in north-west Syria through cross-line deliveries, as we discussed in our last meeting in December. Two cross-line operations have been completed and a third is expected to take place soon, in line with that six-month plan that we discussed before. And I urge, of course, ongoing support from all here to ensure timely and predictable deliveries do continue. And I thank the relevant authorities for those permissions and the actions they have taken.

Distribution of that aid also continues. Food delivered cross-line reached more than 40,000 people again this month.

These developments are positive, and we must use all avenues to reach those in need. But, of course, let me reiterate that cross-line operations do not replace the size or the scope of the massive cross-border operation at this point.

Each month, the United Nations and its partners deliver food and other critical items for millions of people in the north-west. People who need our support and deserve it. Through that support, people can see a doctor and get essential medicine and send their children to school.

As the Secretary-General stated in his report on resolution 2585 in December, our cross-border operation is one of the most closely monitored operations in the world. We know what the needs are, what aid is being delivered and where aid is going.

Finally, Madam President, as if it needs repeating, civilians need food, medicine and other life-saving items. They need access to basic services. That gives them a chance to live a dignified life. And they need protection from harm.

To achieve this, we need to expand access. We need the funds for sustained humanitarian operations. We need to reach more people with immediate life-saving assistance. And we need to scale up, and we will play our part in this, to scale up early recovery programmes. They offer a pathway to more self-sufficiency and the possibility of basic services for those families that must have them and so often don’t.

Thank you very much.


UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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