US-Russia tensions over Ukraine threaten northern Syria’s lifeline

Placeholder while article actions are loading

ISTANBUL — In a camp for displaced people in northern Syria on Friday, aid workers handed out cash, one-time payments of $120, to support people living on the brink of ruin. The prices of basic goods soared and some families survived on bread alone.

The foundering economies of Syria and neighboring Turkey have contributed to rising prices, and now the war in Ukraine and the accompanying global wheat shortage and spike in oil prices have exacerbated the crisis. Over the past month, hundreds of families have lined up for payments in $20 bills. Without the money, “I really think there will be a catastrophe,” Muslim Syed Issa, a spokesman for the aid group Syria Relief, said in a text message from Syria’s Idlib province.

He and others said things could get a lot worse.

Aid agencies are warning of looming disaster in northwest Syria if a UN Security Council resolution allowing humanitarian supplies to pass through the Turkish-Syrian border is not extended for another year before the mandate expires on July 10. The resolution facilitates one of the largest humanitarian operations anywhere in the world, aid officials say.

This allows the UN to coordinate aid deliveries that provide food, medicine and other assistance to millions of people in the region, many of them displaced by war. If the corridor is cut off, it will cause “unforgivable suffering”, a group of aid agencies said in a statement released this weekthe latest dire warnings from Western diplomats and aid agencies about the consequences of not extending the mandate.

Millions of Syrian civilians at risk if US and Russia fail to strike aid deal

In recent years, Russia has threatened to veto the resolution, arguing that aid deliveries from Turkey to rebel-held areas of Syria violate the sovereignty of the government of President Bashar al-Assad, a Moscow ally. Now, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the breakdown of its relations with other members of the Security Council, including the United States, have cast uncertainty over the future of the aid corridor.

The government of Russian President Vladimir Putin has advocated aid deliveries from government-held parts of Syria. But people familiar with the aid operations said a number of obstacles, including the Syrian government’s restrictions on aid coming from its territory, meant that such supplies were not enough to replace the cross-border aid operation from Turkey.

Russia has not yet said how it will vote on the resolution, but its deputy ambassador to the UN, Dmitry Polyansky, said last month that Russia was “absolutely convinced that the organization of humanitarian supplies to all areas of Syria is possible in coordination with Damascus”. He added that aid deliveries from government-held areas of Syria “could increase significantly” if the only border crossing for aid deliveries from Turkey is closed – a prospect that is more than alarming to aid groups.

Last year, under very different circumstances, the Security Council voted unanimously to continue aid deliveries across the Turkish border. Both the United States and Russia hailed the vote as a success of diplomacy and the product of a meeting between President Biden and Putin a month earlier in Geneva, the kind of cooperation that is now a distant memory.

“This is a time when it is absolutely vital that the people of Syria are not forced to pay the price of geopolitical separation from Ukraine and elsewhere in a way that prevents the vital humanitarian aid they need now and will need in increased quantities now,” David Miliband, president and chief executive of the International Rescue Committee, who signed the joint statement, told a briefing last week.

An estimated 4.5 million people live in northwestern Syria, a region controlled by opposition armed groups and torn by war in the years since an uprising against Assad in 2011. Deteriorating conditions mean 4.1 million of them are now in need of humanitarian aid , said Mark Cutts, the UN’s deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for the crisis in Syria.

“People can’t afford to buy food, they can’t afford to buy bread,” he said. Families, he added, are resorting to alarming survival mechanisms, including child labor and youth marriage, to cope. Hunger is on the rise and 1 in 3 people in the region are malnourished, he said.

The worsening economic picture is hardly the only challenge. Turkey, which has facilitated aid deliveries, has at the same time threatened a new military incursion into northern Syria against Kurdish fighters, an operation that aid officials say will exacerbate the humanitarian crisis.

The UN has voted to allow humanitarian aid to continue flowing into Syria through the Turkish border

As the need grew, the UN operation suffered from declining access to Syria. When the operation began in 2014, the Security Council authorized the delivery of aid through four border crossings into Syria from Turkey, Iraq and Jordan. Two years ago, three of the crossing points were removed following vetoes by China and Russia, and now the entire operation passes through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing.

A lack of funding for humanitarian operations has also reduced the number of trucks crossing the border, Cutts said. In 2020, an average of 1,000 aid trucks crossed the border. In the past two years, the number has dropped to about 800 per month.

“One thinks of this cross-border operation as transporting food and supplies. It’s not just about trucking in goods,” Cutts said, adding that the operation has facilitated the work of hospitals, providing clean water to the region’s residents, helping the disabled and providing improved shelter to people in the camps, among others. with other activities.

In Syria’s endless war, refugee tent camps are hardening into concrete cities

Issa, the Syria Relief spokesman, said his main concern was the huge number of displaced people in northwestern Syria, driven out by war several times in recent years. According to the UN, there are 2.8 million displaced people in the region, and for them the recent challenges – a fivefold increase in fuel prices and a jump in the cost of other goods – are insurmountable.

“There are camps everywhere in Idlib,” he said.

In the past year, five aid convoys from government-held areas – Russia’s preferred delivery method – have reached northwest Syria, Martin Griffiths, the UN humanitarian coordinator, told the Security Council during a briefing last month. “This is no small thing,” he said.

“But we have to face reality,” he added, saying there was “no alternative” to aid deliveries from Turkey. “The needs of the people of Syria – the Syrian people who must be our first concern – are growing, with more of them needing our help and our protection.”

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.