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Why the UN Security Council must vote for Syria aid access now

Millions of mostly women, children, and elderly people could be cut off from life-saving aid if the resolution is not renewed.

A camp for internally displaced Syrians in Idlib, northwest Syria, in February 2020. Umit Bektas/REUTERS
A camp for internally displaced Syrians in Idlib, northwest Syria, in February 2020.

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The Security Council votes imminently on whether to extend a UN resolution that allows vital cross-border aid from Türkiye into northwest Syria. Without this authorisation, 4.1 million Syrians in the region – mostly women, children, and elderly people – may find themselves without the life-saving support they so desperately need.

In the year since the Security Council last mandated the current cross-border operation, an average of 800 UN trucks – carrying food, medicine, shelter, and other life-saving aid – have crossed every month from Türkiye into northwest Syria.

This assistance is critical. 

For three decades I’ve been working in conflict zones, including Afghanistan, Bosnia, Ethiopia, Iraq, Myanmar, Somalia, Sudan, and the West Bank and Gaza, but northwest Syria, where I oversee the cross-border aid operation, is one of the most desperate humanitarian situations I have ever seen. 

Some 1.7 million people live in camps or other sites for the displaced in the northwest, where conditions are often appalling. Prices of food and other essentials have risen sharply, making life even more difficult for the most vulnerable. And the situation is only becoming more dire.

Aid workers in the rebel-held northwest relayed to me conversations they had with women living in those camps, some of whom were first forced to flee their homes 11 years ago, when Syria’s war began. 

Traumatised by all they have been through, they fear returning to the Syrian government-controlled areas they fled from. And they cannot cross into Türkiye, which already hosts more Syrian refugees than the rest of the world put together. 

“We live surrounded by hunger and heat,” said Khalidia al-Mouhammad. “We eat bulgur or rice in the evenings and have leftovers for breakfast. The conditions we live in are unspeakable.”

Walida Khaled al-Rahmoun is a widow, caring for five children. “We used to have homes, but now we live in misery,” she told an aid worker. She works in the fields, under the scorching sun, but the money she earns isn’t enough to cover her family’s daily expenses.

At a time when more and more people need our help in Syria, the UN and the NGOs we work with are being forced to slash aid programmes. This is because global food prices are soaring as a result of the war in Ukraine and donors are confronted with new crises.  

Watch →  Syria analyst Aron Lund on the behind-the-scenes diplomacy

Much has changed since last year, when the Security Council last voted to extend cross-border aid into the northwest. More money has been spent on building community resilience, and the UN has restarted delivering some aid across the front lines from within Syria. We have carried out five convoys from government-controlled areas into the northwest – the first to the area in years. 

Along with local and international NGOs, we are working to provide 800,000 people living in tents with more dignified shelter. We are planning to help get at least 100,000 children back into school. We have repaired roads and fixed up community centres to help people secure jobs.  

But Ruqaia Abd al-Razeq, a mother of 11 children, said she can barely get by with the monthly food basket she gets from the World Food Programme: “I’m always thinking about where to find food. If I feed the children today, what will I give them tomorrow?”

It’s shocking to think that even this diminished but still vital lifeline could be cut by the UN Security Council, precisely when we need to drastically ramp up our aid operations to reach ever more Syrians in need. 

Tensions are running high because of the conflict in Ukraine, but failing to renew the resolution will increase suffering, and will be a massive disruption to one of the world’s largest humanitarian operations.

Against this backdrop, I am calling once again on the Security Council to extend its authorisation for the cross-border operation. I hope that its members will put divisions aside, and put the needs of the Syrian people first.

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