UK says closure of Syrian border crossing Bab Al Hawa will be 'a humanitarian disaster'

More than a million refugees in north-west Syria at risk because three quarters of their aid comes via the route

Syrian refugees wait at the Syrian-Turkish border as fears grow that one of the last remaining humanitarian aid crossing points will close. EPA
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Britain strongly supports the renewal of UN Security Council Resolution 2533 to maintain cross-border aid access into Syria, the country's foreign office told The National.

“We are calling on members of the council to vote in favour of the resolution in July to expand cross border access for aid into Syria to avoid further humanitarian disaster,” a spokesman said.

The statement was issued after UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was urged to use his influence to keep a vital Syria border crossing open to prevent a "humanitarian disaster".

The Bab Al Hawa crossing is expected to shut when a UN mandate expires next month, leaving more than a million refugees in north-west Syria facing catastrophe because three quarters of their aid comes via the route.

The crossing is under threat of closure because Russia is likely to veto the UN resolution that will keep it open until July 10.

"For the civilians in that area, this would be a disaster," said Sarah Champion MP, chairwoman of of the UK Parliament's International Development Committee.

About 75 per cent of the population in Idlib province, north-west Syria, is dependent on UN aid to meet their needs, with 85 per cent of that aid passing through Bab Al Hawa.

Mr Raab is being urged to lobby the UN Security Council to keep open the last remaining humanitarian border crossing point from Turkey to Syria.

“Aid agencies working in the region say over a million people are at risk of hunger if this happens,” Ms Champion said. “Closure of this crossing will make the work of these organisations substantially more difficult. The UK must do all it can, including at the UN Security Council, to keep the border open.”

The letter states there have been reports that Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council alongside Britain, would veto an extension of the UN resolution.

With Britain being one of the five permanent Security Council members, the foreign secretary is being asked to make strong representations.

There was also the prospect that the Covid-19 vaccination programme would be severely curtailed, creating a catastrophe because a closure would prevent doses getting through to refugee camps.

“It was already incredibly difficult for humanitarian organisations to work in this area before the pandemic hit,” Ms Champion said. “Now, the aid agencies say a border closure would also put a halt to the UN-led Covid vaccination campaign. That would make a disaster a catastrophe – you cannot socially distance in a refugee camp, or at a food distribution point.”

Mr Raab was also questioned about the UK’s near 50 per cut cut in overseas aid to Syria this year, from £400 million ($563.5 million) to £215 million.

The letter asked what alternative arrangements had been made to get UK aid to Idlib province if the border was closed.