The UN Security Council – including Russia – needs to act quickly to reauthorize medical aid deliveries from Iraq to Syria’s northeast to prevent further spread of Covid-19 that could devastate the region.
The council needs to move quickly to reauthorize UN humanitarian aid deliveries via the al-Yarubiyah crossing to northeast Syria along with two border crossings from Turkey to northwest Syria. Failure to do so will make Syria’s humanitarian crisis even worse, while a lack of critical medical and other supplies could exacerbate the spread of Covid-19.
In late April, Human Rights Watch published research showing that restrictions on aid from Damascus and Iraq were preventing medical supplies and personnel reaching two million people in northeast Syria, where last month there were dozens of confirmed Covid-19 cases and at least three deaths. Particularly important is the al-Yarubiyah crossing on the Iraqi border, which the World Health Organization had used for aid deliveries until a Russian veto threat in January prompted the Security Council to deauthorize it.
Russia has advocated ending all cross-border aid to Syria, arguing it undermines Syria’s sovereignty. While Moscow demonstrated flexibility on aid from Turkey, it showed none on al-Yarubiyah. It argued al-Yarubiyah was unnecessary as areas serviced by it are government controlled and can be supplied from Damascus.
But the unexpected spread of the Covid-19 pandemic since January has highlighted just how crucial al-Yarubiyah is. Alternatives proposed by Russia and others have failed to close the gap. While Syria is reported to have had 177 cases of Covid-19 and six fatalities as of June 14, the low level of testing means the real figure is undoubtedly higher.
The WHO and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs have said that aid organized from Damascus is woefully insufficient to combat Covid-19. Our research has shown how aid agencies face significant obstacles transporting aid from Damascus to areas of northeast Syria outside government control.
The only workable solution is for Russia and the rest of the council to reauthorize the northwest Syria border crossings for 12 months before their mandate expires on July 10, along with an emergency reauthorization of al-Yarubiyah for as long as necessary.
Failure to do so will cause unnecessary suffering and deaths. Russia should acknowledge these special circumstances and allow the renewal of al-Yarubiyah.