UN chief eager for more aid crossings into Syria after earthquake

Aid is already being delivered by non-UN relief agencies through other points of entry

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. AFP
Powered by automated translation

Follow the latest on the earthquake in Turkey

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Thursday that he hoped the UN could use more than one border crossing to deliver aid to Syria, after one of the most powerful earthquakes struck the region.

Mr Guterres said many non-UN relief agencies were already delivering through other crossings.

"I will be very happy if, in relation to the UN, there will be the possibility to do it also in as many crossings as possible," he said.

Mr Guterres said he asked humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths to travel to the region this weekend to assess needs and see how the UN can best direct its support.

Mr Griffiths is expected to visit Gaziantep in southern Turkey, Aleppo in northwestern Syria, and the capital, Damascus.

Mr Guterres alluded to the UN Security Council’s ability to increase the number of cross borders into Syria and urged for humanitarian access to “not be politicised”.

"Now is the time to explore all possible avenues to get aid and personnel into Syria following the earthquake," he said. "We must put people first.”

Stephane Dujarric, the Secretary General's spokesman, said on Thursday that Mr Guterres planned to start discussions with Security Council members about expanding access and including more border crossings.

Bab Al Hawa crossing is the only entry into the north-west region of Syria that does not cross government-held territories.

The cross-border mechanism allows the UN and its partners to provide aid without the authorisation of the Syrian government.

But Damascus opposes sending humanitarian aid directly to opposition-held areas of north-west Syria, contending that all aid should go through it.

Charles Lister, the director of the Syria programme at the Middle East Institute in Washington, told The National that the regime’s demand that any disaster relief comes through Damascus was probably linked to the fact that “four days on, none has arrived to north-western Syria cross-border or cross-line."

"That no longer appears to be a coincidence".

Mr Lister said that with the UN’s resources, the world body was more than “capable of surging assistance into the north-west, but it’s more concerned about keeping Damascus happy than rescuing the lives of Syrians in Idlib".

When the Security Council authorised the mechanism in July 2014, it approved four border crossings.

In July 2020, China and Russia vetoed a UN resolution that would have kept two border-crossing points open for humanitarian aid to the north-western part of the country.

A few days later, aid delivery was restricted to the Bab Al Hawa crossing for a year.

Russia then pressed for a further reduction, finally agreeing to a six-month extension, with another six months contingent on a report from Mr Guterres on progress in deliveries.

Russia has repeatedly said the cross-border aid deliveries that began in 2014 were meant to be temporary.

The UN is facing enormous challenges trying to get aid into Syria.

Four million people inside the country rely entirely on this aid for basic humanitarian needs.

The world body said damage to roads and other infrastructure in southern Turkey stalled aid from reaching north-west Syria, an area already devastated by 12 years of conflict.

Syria’s UN envoy, Geir Pedersen said in Geneva on Thursday that the UN was helping to organise emergency teams and relief operations.

“We need to make sure now is that there are no political hindrances to the aid needed getting to the people that are affected," Mr Pedersen said.

"And this was my message today … and it will be my message indeed to the Syrian authorities.”

So far more than 19,000 people have been killed across Syria and Turkey, and thousands more are feared trapped under the rubble.

Updated: February 10, 2023, 5:39 AM