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SC: Syria - Humanitarian Situation

Statement by co-penholders Norway and Ireland on the humanitarian situation in Syria, 23 June 2021.

I make this statement on behalf of the co-penholders of the Syrian humanitarian file, Norway and Ireland. We would like to thank UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Acting Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ramesh Rajasingham, CARE Turkey Country Director Ms Sherine Ibrahim for their briefings today. 

Mr. President,

This year we marked ten years of conflict in Syria, a conflict that has caused enormous suffering for the Syrian people and created a deeply embedded humanitarian crisis which continues to worsen.

The facts are stark and shocking. At present, 13.4 million people in Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance, a 20 percent increase from last year. The Syrian people continue to bear the brunt of the ongoing conflict.

We condemn the attacks on 12 June on Al Shifaa Hospital in Afrin city that killed and injured civilians, including healthcare workers, and we underline once again the obligation on all parties to conflict to respect international humanitarian law. The impact of the reduced water levels in the Euphrates further underlines the ongoing vulnerability in the North East, where critical irrigation of crops and essential power supply to hospitals has been interrupted.  

Mr. President,

On 10 July, the humanitarian aid delivery mechanism renewed by Resolution 2533 will expire. In the coming two weeks Ireland and Norway as co-penholders will work with all members of this Council for renewal of this humanitarian resolution. We must show our strong and united support for Syria’s most vulnerable people.  

Let me be clear. After ten years of conflict and rising humanitarian needs in 2021, cross-border access is as essential today as it has ever been.

In fact, the situation on the ground has worsened since last July when this Council adopted Resolution 2553. An additional 2.4 million people in Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance. Food insecurity has risen by 50% - let me repeat 50%. In addition, Covid-19 has put enormous pressure on what was already a very fragile health system.

When it comes to delivering life-saving aid to people in need across Syria, we need to use all channels, both cross-line and cross-border modalities.  

Mr. President,

As we have made clear over the past six months, the approach of Ireland and Norway as co-penholders for this resolution is guided solely by the humanitarian need and suffering of the people of Syria. Their needs are our overwhelming concern.

In the north-west, the number of people in need increased by over 20 percent in 2021. Each winter, freezing temperatures and flooding cause further hardships for the 1.6 million people living in camps and informal settlements.

In the north-east, humanitarian needs also remain high, and the situation has worsened since the closure of the Al Yarubiyah border crossing. While cross line deliveries to this area have been scaled up, they have not been adequate to meet growing needs. As the Secretary General’s latest report emphasises, humanitarian organisations in the north-east continue to report limited capacity of healthcare facilities, and imminent stockouts of medical supplies, including critical medicines such as insulin, and cardiovascular and antibacterial medicines. With more crossings and more funds, the UN could do more to help the rising number of people in need.

Mr. President,

We have consulted broadly with Security Council Members, civil society and indeed listened carefully to the UN, including the Secretary General, OCHA and the UN Agencies delivering the humanitarian response in Syria. The message has been very clear. A failure to renew the cross border resolution would halt the delivery of life-saving aid to millions of people in desperate need, increasing civilian suffering in north-west Syria to levels unprecedented in a decade of conflict.

Without a renewal, the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the North West would be severely disrupted. A closure would have a detrimental effect on health, food security, water, sanitation, protection and other services provided by NGOs who rely on the UN support in logistics, financing and procurement. Put simply, failure to renew would cause a humanitarian catastrophe in the North West of Syria.

Humanitarian access must be facilitated to reach all civilians in need using all possible means, including through cross-line operations. However, even if deployed regularly, we know that cross-line convoys in the North West could not come close to replicating the size and scope of the cross-border operations. It is worth noting here the critical role of the UN Monitoring Mechanism in ensuring the cross border operation in the North West is one of the most heavily scrutinized and monitored aid operations in the world, ensuring the humanitarian nature of all shipments in the North West.

This brings us to the role and responsibility of the members of this Council, to ensure that all channels for delivering life-saving aid to people in need in Syria should be made and kept available.

Mr. President,

In the coming days, Ireland and Norway as co-penholders will be circulating to Council Members a draft resolution which will renew and expand the humanitarian aid delivery mechanism in response to the pressing humanitarian needs.

As penholders, our approach will continue to be informed by the words of the UN Secretary General that “a large-scale cross-border response for an additional 12 months remains essential to save lives”. We will remain in close contact with all members of the council in the weeks to come, in ensuring that the humanitarian needs of the people of Syria are met.