The situation in the Middle East - Security Council, 8957th meeting.
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The situation in the Middle East - Security Council, 8957th meeting.

Representatives Divided on Cross-border Mechanisms, Imposition of Sanctions

Amid a bitter winter, continuing outbreaks of violence and an ever-deepening economic crisis, humanitarian needs in Syria are dwarfed by the funding available to meet them, the United Nations humanitarian chief informed the Security Council today, as speakers expressed concern about a harrowing siege in a prison in the north-east of the country.

Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that as the conflict in Syria enters its second decade, even the bare minimum — of sufficient relief, civilian protection and access to basic social service — is not being provided to the country’s people, stressing: “Failure each year cannot be our strategy.”

Painting a dismal picture of a country where resurgent hotspots in the conflict continue to claim civilians’ lives and impact vital infrastructure, while unsafe conditions in sprawling refugee camps due to violence and bitter winter conditions worsen the suffering of the displaced, he pointed out that current funding can only help cover half of the over 4 million people across Syria who need protection from the elements and the basics of survival.

Expressing concern about the deepening economic crisis, which is making food increasingly unaffordable, and insufficient food aid, he underlined the need for smart funding and creative humanitarian efforts to reduce dependency on food aid. While efforts are under way to carry out a six-month-plan to reach people in need in north-west Syria through crossline deliveries, he pointed out that such operations cannot replace the size or the scope of the massive cross-border operation, echoing the Secretary-General’s view that it is among the most closely monitored operations in the world.

Underscoring that the Syrian people are in urgent need of food, medicine, access to basic services, and protection from harm, requiring expanded access, adequate funds for humanitarian operations, and the immediate scaling up of early recovery programmes, he told the Council: “It’s not over for the Syrian people. And your responsibility isn’t over either.”

Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, also briefed the Council, saying that although Syria has faded from international headlines, the situation on the ground has gotten dramatically worse, with armed conflict wreaking death, destruction and displacement; a socioeconomic crisis, exacerbated by drought; and humanitarian work impeded by numerous barriers.

Against this backdrop, he called for more effective humanitarian diplomacy, urging the Russian Federation to help on the Government side, and Turkey and the United States to help in opposition-controlled areas. Pointing out that as many as 3 million extremely vulnerable civilians live in opposition-controlled areas, he called on all parties with influence on armed opposition groups to renew their engagements with United Nations mediators to reach a negotiated solution and prevent a potential bloodbath.

He called for the relaunching of the United Nations-led deconfliction system for Syria, with the participation of all relevant parties, including the Russian Federation, and for renewed efforts to step up crossline humanitarian assistance. Moreover, the United Nations-led cross-border operation to the north-west must continue beyond midsummer and cannot be replaced by non-governmental-organization-led responses or by crossline programming, he said, calling on the Council to ensure a continued United Nations-led cross-border response from Turkey and improved conditions for crossline responses out of Damascus.

Lamenting the plight of the first Syrian refugee babies born in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley or in Jordan’s Zaatari camp, who are now 10 years old and have never seen the land of their ancestors, he pointed out that there is no relocation programme to third countries and little chance of integration where the refugees have received protection. Conditions inside Syria are still not conducive for mass return, he said, calling on all Council members to cooperate in addressing the future of Syrian refugees.

In the ensuing discussion, Council members voiced concern about the concatenation of crises that exacerbated the suffering of the Syrian people, 90 per cent of whom live in poverty, and expressed alarm at the outbreak of violence involving Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) in the north-east. While speakers were united in underscoring the need to meet staggering humanitarian needs amid harsh winter conditions, divisions emerged around cross-border mechanisms and the imposition of sanctions on Syria.

France’s representative urged an end to hostilities, pointing out that 90 per cent of Syria’s population lives under the poverty line and its children only know of war. Stressing the importance of impartiality of humanitarian aid, she said Syria has preconditioned or instrumentalized aid, which is a mistake. Without a political settlement, there is no durable solution, she said, adding that France’s position on lifting sanctions and reconstruction remains unchanged. With the need for medical aid rising, Syria must respect international humanitarian law.

The United Kingdom’s delegate said that by targeting schools, hospitals and emergency first responders, the Assad regime and the Russian Federation have demonstrated scant regard for international humanitarian law throughout the conflict, reiterating the obligation on all parties to avoid civilian casualties. Reflecting on the work of the Independent Senior Advisory Panel on Humanitarian Deconfliction in Syria and the Board of Inquiry, which noted that it was “highly probable” that the Syrian regime and/or its allies were behind attacks on four civilian facilities, he called for accountability for these crimes.

The Russian Federation’s delegate, countering these claims, averred that the United Kingdom had struck Syria “more than 4,000 times”, with one attack claiming civilian lives. Noting that the cross-border aid mechanism was extended through 10 July 2022, with some problems needing to be tackled over the next five months, he also pointed out that crossline aid deliveries from within Syria have rapidly expanded. Any stalling of humanitarian convoys — including to Idlib — cannot be regarded as anything but sabotage and a direct threat to the lives of civilians. “No amount of humanitarian aid can effectively replace hospitals, power plants, factories and schools that are running smoothly,” he said, calling for more attention to be paid to the negative impact of sanctions on the lives of ordinary Syrians.

Meanwhile, the delegate of the United States emphasized that crossline aid is a complement to and not a substitute for cross-border assistance. The Council must renew and ensure cross-border points are kept open to ensure delivery of critical supplies, including COVID-19 vaccines. Thanking States that are hosting Syrian refugees, she said forcing them to return now could be dangerous, leading to such consequences as forced detention, torture or death.

Syria’s delegate, taking the floor towards the end of the meeting, blamed the “blatant economic terrorism and policies of collective punishment through unilateral coercive measures” for the suffering of millions of his country’s people, who are deprived of basic needs, including food, medicine and health-care supplies. Further, he reaffirmed Syria’s position of rejecting cross-border mechanisms, which violate its territorial integrity, and are used by groups such as Al-Nusra Front to control Idlib and detain its residents as human shields.

Turning to events in Al-Hasakah Governorate, which claimed the lives of civilians and led to the destruction of civilian infrastructure, he pointed out that United States-led forces destroyed two educational facilities, a fuel station and a bakery in Al-Hasakah, asking: “Shouldn’t they be held accountable?” Taking exception to “false claims” by some delegates citing the Senior Advisory Panel on humanitarian deconfliction, he pointed out that they forgot about the crimes of the “illegal global coalition”, which destroyed Raqqa, among other places.

Also speaking today were representatives of Norway, Ghana, Albania, Kenya, China, Mexico, India, United Arab Emirates, Brazil, Gabon, Turkey and Iran.

The meeting began at 3:10 p.m. and ended at 5:01 p.m.