Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 23 September 2020

Humanitarian groups furious about vetoes that threaten lifeline for Syrians

Russia and China blocked the extension of a mandate for cross-border aid delivery that expires on Friday

Russian and China have vetoed an extension to the UN agreemeent to provide aid to north-west Syria and rebel-held Idlib from Turkey. AFP
Russian and China have vetoed an extension to the UN agreemeent to provide aid to north-west Syria and rebel-held Idlib from Turkey. AFP

Aid agencies strongly criticised Russia and China for blocking the extension of UN approval for aid deliveries to Syria from Turkey.

The aid is a lifeline to millions of people who are already contending with displacement, the crash of the Syrian pound and a global pandemic.

The six-year-old mandate for the cross-border aid delivery mechanism expires tomorrow, prompting fears for the well-being of civilians in north-west Syria – an area that is home to more than three million people, half of whom have been displaced from elsewhere, and the country’s largest refugee camp.

Regime allies Russia and China vetoed the extension of the mandate during a meeting of the Security Council on Tuesday. A vote will now be held on a six-month proposal put forward by Russia that would reduce the number of border crossings used to deliver aid from Turkey from two to one.

Humanitarian groups say that this would not only affect the provision of supplies, but would risk the complete loss of aid if there were a disruption – such as an explosion or protest – at the single available route: the Bab Al Hawa gate between Turkey's southern Hatay province and Syria's last rebel stronghold, Idlib.

Syrian NGOs, who administer aid on the ground on behalf of larger organisations such as the UN, said changes to the current aid mandate would greatly affect their work. This includes the efforts of a task force working to prevent the coronavirus pandemic from spreading to the region.

“Delivering aid to people in need should not be a matter for veto it should be mandatory,” said Yakzan Shishakly, co-founder of the Maram Foundation, which provides relief to refugees in Syria.

“Having a UN presence, even if limited, gives people on the ground some confidence ... millions of people’s future and life are connected to this resolution – it’s the only path left to deliver some hope.”

Fouad Sayed Issa, spokesman for the Violet Organisation, which operates three camps in Idlib, said they were confident that a solution would be found at the Security Council, but “if they stop everything, it will be a crisis”.

Amnesty International called the use of the veto despicable, while emergency relief group Care said they were “deeply concerned”.

By vetoing the resolution, they have created yet another obstacle to reach the millions of people who completely rely on food delivered through these border crossings,” said Care chief executive Michelle Nunn.

If no resolution is agreed, aid will likely have to be delivered via the capital Damascus, leaving it at the mercy of the Syrian regime, which has a history of blocking aid to rebel-held territory.

Idlib province was until March – when a ceasefire was called due to the pandemic – under heavy bombardment from the Syrian regime and Russia.

A UN report released this week said indiscriminate attacks on hospitals, schools, markets and homes, as well as the torture of civilians, executions and other rights breaches by terrorist groups in Idlib amounted to war crimes.

In January, the Security Council allowed the cross-border aid operation to continue from the two Turkish crossings for six months, but dropped crossing points from Iraq and Jordan because of opposition from Russia and China.

Updated: July 8, 2020 06:44 PM

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