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Relying on Syrian Government for Cross Border Aid Delivery is Untenable

Alternatives Needed to Assist Besieged Civilians in Opposition-Held Northwest Syria

UN humanitarian aid trucks enter northwest Syria through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey on June 1, 2021. © 2021 Associated Press

Syria permitting the United Nations to use the Bab-al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey to deliver much-needed humanitarian assistance to the opposition-held northwest may seem like positive news to some. But the Syrian government cannot be relied upon to ensure aid gets to those who need it.

Two days ago, the UN Security Council failed to renew authorization to use this vital aid corridor. Yesterday, Syria sent a letter to the UN stating it could use the crossing – but only if the UN adheres to untenable caveats.

For donor states to accept an arrangement where the UN only delivers aid to Syria’s northwest for the next six months if it is “in full cooperation and coordination with the Syrian Government,” as stated in the letter, is to place the fate of over four million vulnerable people in the hands of the very government that displaced, dispossessed, and besieged them.

For over a decade, the Syrian government has systemically obstructed, weaponized, and co-opted humanitarian aidto advance its own interests and punish its perceived opponents. This is why, almost ten years ago, the UN Security Council first passed a cross-border resolution that bypasses Syrian government consent. The UN-led aid operations have since become a lifeline to civilians in northern Syrian.

But Russia’s attempts to undermine the resolution at the Security Council, which previously saw the available cross border aid corridors into nongovernment-held areas whittled down from four to a single crossing, succeeded in effectively terminating it this week.

UN member states should explore other avenues to deliver lifesaving assistance to people living in areas outside government control, in a principled and impartial manner that is not beholden to politicization.  

This is essential. In the wake of devastating earthquakes that struck northern Syria in February, the reliance on a single Security Council-mandated border crossing into northwest Syria left millions without access to critical search-and-rescue reinforcements and lifesaving aid for an entire week. This cannot happen again.

In the meantime, Security Council members should return to the negotiating table and reach a consensus that puts Syrians’ rights first. If the council again fails to act, the UN General Assembly could be approached to intervene, as it has in the past, to establish pathways for accountability and justice during Security Council deadlock.

Allowing Syria to dictate the flow of aid to areas beyond government control puts the lives, rights, and dignity of millions of Syrians at grave risk.


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