As Humanitarian Crisis Rapidly Deteriorates, Russia And China Block Cross-Border Aid To Syria

Russia, backed by China, cast its 14th Security Council veto this Friday, effectively blocking cross-border aid deliveries from Turkey and Iraq to millions of Syrian civilians. Having been in effect since 2014, the resolution would have extended aid through three checkpoints – two in Turkey and one in Iraq – for another year. Vassily Nebenzia, Russian Ambassador to the United Nations, declared the latest resolution “obsolete” since Damascus authorities have “retaken control of most” of Syria’s territory, and that the council had to acknowledge the “dramatic” improvement of the situation.

As the resolution is vetoed, tens of thousands of civilians continue to flee the heavy bombardments on the northwestern Idlib region. Government forces are attacking areas controlled by non-state armed groups who have escalated assaults against government-controlled parts of southern Idlib and Aleppo. Ursula Mueller, OCHA’s Assistant Secretary General, points to reports stating that hostilities have displaced up to 60,000 in Idlib alone. Without the cross-border operation that has “staved off an even larger humanitarian crisis,” the situation will be “markedly worse.” The four border crossings, she upholds, are simply “vital to ensure lifesaving work in Syria continues.”

The UN humanitarian relief department has also affirmed the significance of all border crossings, in wake of the deteriorating situation on the ground and Syria’s upcoming winter. Mueller also remarked to the UN Security Council that the immediate end of support to millions of civilians would cause “a rapid increase in hunger and disease, resulting in death, suffering and further displacement – including across-borders – for a vulnerable population who have already suffered unspeakable tragedy as a result of almost nine years of conflict.”

The 2020 Global Humanitarian Overview current estimates project that at least 11 million people in Syria will need regular humanitarian assistance – five million of which are in “acute” need. Across the region, 5.6 million Syrian refugees are also in need of assistance, more than 70% of whom live in poverty. OHCHR has also recorded growing instances of detentions, improvised attacks and assassination attempts against pro-Government and former opposition-linked individuals. In North Syria alone, there has been an increasing number of incidents involving improvised explosive devices in marketplaces, residential neighborhoods and populated areas in which at least 78 civilians were killed, and more than 300 persons injured.

With the economic situation across Syria already exacerbating civilian suffering – the rising cost of living, stagnating incomes, and the fact that Syrian pound has been devaluated by 40% in just two months – Mueller defends that the continuing insecurity still continues to endanger civilians across much of Syria and not just in the front lines. New ways to restore essential and lifesaving services “must be found” to ensure that the poorest and those in the brink of poverty “do not slip into an even worse state.”

As British Ambassador Karen Pierce stated, the vetoes show an unwillingness to help Syrians – and that “the crocodile tears from the Russians and Syrians about what will now happen on the ground is merely yet another example of the breathtaking hypocrisy we have been on this.” Countries must exert pressure on Russia and China to correct their aversive veto, and to refrain from actions that compromise humanitarian responses. At a time when hostilities continue to batter the already war-torn areas of northeast and western Syria, authoritative bodies and the international community must be committed and united in their support for the Syrian people. Organizations, charities and governments must work together to ensure unhindered access to Syrian territory for humanitarian response to be fully implemented. The lives of civilians and aid workers are non-negotiable, and decisions made must be in accordance with international humanitarian law.