The Overwhelming Majority of Northwestern Syria Camps No Longer Receive Bread, as UN Humanitarian Assistance is Halted
On July 11, Russia used its veto powers in the UN Security Council for the fifth time to block the delivery of UN humanitarian assistance to northwestern Syria via the Turkish border, in accordance with the draft resolution proposed by Switzerland and Brazil. On July 14, the Syrian regime sent an official letter to the UN Secretary-General and the Security Council President to inform them that it has given permission for the relevant UN organs to use Bab al-Hawa Crossing to deliver relief aid through full cooperation and coordination with the regime, though only for six months, starting on July 13.
In a later development on August 7, Martin Griffiths, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, and the Syrian regime reached a deal that would allow the UN and its partners to continue to deliver cross-border humanitarian assistance in appropriate quantities and in a principled way that would allow engagement with all parties for the sake of delivering humanitarian assistance in a way that protects the UN’s operational independence.
Today, northwestern Syria houses no fewer than 4.5 million people according to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), including 1.9 million people living in camps. Ninety percent of this population relies on UN cross-border humanitarian assistance that has been delivered since 2014 in accordance with Security Council resolutions. Sadly, this made humanitarian assistance subject to extortion by Russia every year, with the scope of humanitarian assistance shrinking annually to the point of having it delivered via one crossing with the introduction of the concept of cross-line humanitarian assistance with Security Council resolution 2585 in 2021.
In the past week, we have observed that bread has run out in most camps, in tandem with continued water shortages and price rises for most food supplies as the delivery of UN humanitarian assistance via the Bab al-Hawa Crossing has been halted for seven weeks (since July 10), which portends a humanitarian catastrophe that may reach the levels of a famine in northwestern Syria.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) reiterates its legal position which we noted three years ago, that the delivery of UN relief aid does not require permission from the Security Council. It is also essential to emphasize that a coordination mechanism must be established among the donor states to avoid, whenever and however possible, the Syrian regime’s abuse of control and theft of the relief aid.
SNHR also stresses that humanitarian assistance must not turn into an instrument to fund and support a regime involved in crimes against humanity against its people, including those for whom the humanitarian assistance is intended. It is wildly unreasonable to rely on those who have committed monstrous violations against, and displaced a people to deliver UN humanitarian assistance to those same people and to compensate them and their families. Moreover, SNHR renews its calling on the Security Council to end its monopoly over the delivery of cross-border UN humanitarian assistance, since this should be within the scope of the UN General Assembly and the OCHA, and to stop using its veto powers in a way that violates international human rights law, especially in cases that involve crimes against humanity such as forced displacement. SNHR calls on the UN and the donor states to establish an international support platform that would manage the process of coordinating relief aid in northwestern Syria. Such a platform would serve as an alternative option besides the UN.
This statement is a distress call for donor states and international organizations urging them to urgently act and deliver humanitarian assistance to the camps of northwestern Syria, especially bread and water, outside the framework of the UN.