Humanitarian aid to north Syria politicised despite EU protests
Sunday, 19 January 2020
The United Nations Security Council adopted recently a resolution on providing humanitarian aid to north Syria via border crossings but limited it in space and time. The discussion in the Security Council showed not only the differences between the super powers but also that the aid has been hijacked by Syria.
The resolution (2504) was adopted on 10 January by a vote of 11 in favour, to none against, with 4 abstentions – China, Russia, United Kingdom and United States.
Belgium, who negotiated the resolution together with Germany, stated that 4 million Syrians depended on the aid, among them 1.4 million people in north-east Syria who had received medical aid via a border crossing with Iraq. The French delegate accused Russia for giving in to the demands of “the criminal Assad regime which is sparingly granting authorizations and diverting aid for political ends”.
United Kingdom abstained from voting because it said that the resolution reduces the provision of aid to populations at risk. The US abstained because the “water-down” resolution was inadequate to meet people’s needs. Russia abstained because it did not want to block aid deliveries but claimed that the border crossings in Iraq and Jordan had not been used and Syria must approve all aid deliveries.
While the resolution avoided an expiration of the UN mandate to deliver aid to Syria, it decided that the aid would only be delivered through crossings in Turkey, excluding two other crossings on Syria’s borders with Iraq and Jordan, through which aid has moved since 2014. The UN mandate runs only to 10 July, when it would have to be renewed again.
In north-east Syria, the humanitarian has worsened since October last year when Turkey and its proxy forces invaded the region. Turkey claimed that the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration there is a terrorist organisation and threatens it security. In fact, the Kurdish administration has established a functioning local self-government in north- east Syria and fought successfully against the Islamic State.
According to Kurdish sources, international aid agencies are unable to work with the Autonomous Administration since it lacks any form of recognition. Humanitarian aid from UN bodies and its partners is channelled through NGOs registered with the Syrian government.
The non-recognition of the Administration means also that it is excluded from the UN-led peace process on Syria’s future. The process is supposed to be inclusive and include all stakeholders in Syria.
In a statement following the resolution, EU regretted the exclusion of the crossing point between Iraq and north-east Syria. “This jeopardizes the delivery of critical medicine and medical equipment to northeast Syria.” The EU also regretted the reduced timeframe of the resolution. “Meeting acute humanitarian needs requires sustained and predictable access beyond six months.”
The statement drew also the attention to the escalation of hostilities in north-west Syria, where “ongoing violence and violations of international humanitarian law continue to dramatically affect civilians who have already suffered years of conflict.” Some 300,000 people are estimated to have been displaced since the beginning of December in appalling conditions.
Peter Stano, lead spokesperson for EU foreign affairs, told The Brussels Times that recognition of the Autonomous Administration in north-east Syria falls outside EU’s competence and is a matter for individual EU member states. However, no member state has yet formally recognised the administration, according to our sources.
“It’s a huge and complex issue,” he said. “We have not only the north-east part of Syria but also the north-west part, the province of Idlib, where our concerns are even more urgent and immediate because of the ongoing confrontation there. The Syrian regime and its Russian allies have relaunched military operations in Idlib and don’t distinguish between military and civilian targets.”
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) criticized also the UN decision. Its CEO, former British foreign minister David Miliband, said, “The elimination of border crossings for vital aid in the UN Security Council Resolution 2504 – despite the fact that two crossings into Idlib province have been saved – has no humanitarian justification”.
In the case of the Iraq-Syria crossing at Yaroubiya, it cuts an aid crossing that saw passage of 40 UN convoys last year, he stated.
Danielle Moylan, Syria Spokesperson for United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), said that, “In recent months the UN and other humanitarian partners have been scaling up assistance to north-east Syria from within Syria and now provide assistance to 850,000 people in the north-east on average each month”.
Nearly 6,000 humanitarian staff are based and operating in the north-east, including UN and international NGO staff, she said. Any party having control over territory must uphold international humanitarian and human rights law and remains responsible for meeting the needs of civilians in the area, including the provision of essential supplies and services.
At the same time, the UN continues to call on all parties to ensure safe and unimpeded access for impartial humanitarian services, without discrimination, for civilians who remain in need. Without mentioning the Syrian government, the call is mainly addressed to the regime in Damascus and its allies.