Top UN humanitarian organisations call for extension of Syria cross-border aid mechanism

Current Security Council resolution on cross-border assistance due to expire on July 10

A convoy transporting humanitarian aid crosses into Syria from Turkey through the Bab Al Hawa border crossing. AFP
Powered by automated translation

The UN’s top humanitarian organisations urged the Security Council on Wednesday to extend Syria's cross-border aid mechanism for 12 months instead of six, days before the current period expires.

The current Security Council resolution on cross-border assistance in Syria is due to lapse on July 10.

A joint statement signed by the heads of seven UN humanitarian and health organisations said that a 12-month extension would ensure humanitarian aid continues to reach people in “desperate need effectively and without delays”.

“This pipeline is more important than ever. Every month, it allows the United Nations and our partners to reach 2.7 million people with medicines, safe water, food, shelter supplies and protection services from across the border,” the statement said.

The Security Council initially authorised aid deliveries in 2014 into opposition-held areas of Syria from Iraq, Jordan and two points in Turkey.

But Russia has insisted on the reduction of UN-permitted aid border crossings into Syria from four to one – Bab Al Hawa – and cut the time frame for the mechanism's renewal from a year to six months.

Following a devastating earthquake on February 6, the UN reached an agreement with Damascus to establish two additional border crossings from Turkey, Bab Al Salam and Al Rai.

Initially granted for a three-month period, the access was later extended in May for another three months.

“Russia's cynical politicisation of the cross-border mechanism has narrowed the temporal and geographic scope of the resolution to allow the use of only a single border crossing since 2020, undermining the delivery of life-saving aid at a time when the impact of the recent earthquakes on civilians has been catastrophic,” said Aya Majzoub, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Both the Russian government and the Syrian regime have said UN aid should be channelled through Damascus to opposition-controlled areas, but the UN says such aid “cannot match the scale or scope of cross-border operations”.

“If the UN Security Council fails to authorise cross-border aid or the Syrian President withholds his consent, the UN and its humanitarian should consider alternatives to ensure that desperate Syrians get the life-saving assistance they're entitled to,” Louis Charbonneau, the UN director at Human Rights Watch, told The National.

The UK's ambassador to the UN Barbara Woodward, who is presiding over the Security Council for the month of July, told reporters last week that the body “has a duty to do the right thing to open more border crossings for longer periods of time”.

“And to be frank, if it were up to us alone, this would mean at least three border crossings for at least 12 months,” she said.

“I think the important thing to remember here is, this should not be a political bargaining chip. This is simply about humanitarian aid access and aid access alone.”

Updated: July 05, 2023, 7:43 PM