Displaced Syrians fear that aid will be hindered after Russian veto

Middle East News
2023-07-12 | 06:41
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Displaced Syrians fear that aid will be hindered after Russian veto
Displaced Syrians fear that aid will be hindered after Russian veto

Displaced people living in dire camps in northwest Syria fear that Russia's use of its veto power to thwart the extension of the mechanism for delivering aid across the border for nine months will hinder their access to much-needed food and relief supplies.

Ghiath Al-Sha'ar, a 43-year-old displaced person, sits in front of his caravan, which serves as his home in a camp near the town of Batbu in northern Idlib, and tells Agence France-Presse on Wednesday, "After Russia displaced us from our village, they are now fighting us politically over our means of survival, turning humanitarian aid into a political issue."

The father of five children adds that cross-border aid is "absolutely necessary in the absence of job opportunities," and without it, "no one can sustain themselves, especially if they have children."

The UN Security Council failed on Tuesday to reach an agreement on extending the mechanism for delivering aid from Turkey to Syria through the Bab al-Hawa crossing, due to Russia's veto, one of Damascus's main supporters, which prevented the adoption of a resolution to extend the mechanism for nine months.

During the same session, Russia presented an alternative proposal to extend the mechanism for six months, which was rejected by the Council with a majority of ten votes, while the United Nations, humanitarian workers, and the majority of Council members insist on extending the mechanism for at least one year to allow for better organization of aid and ensure its delivery to those in need, especially during the coming winter.

Since his displacement from the Eastern Ghouta of Damascus five years ago, Al-Sha'ar has relied on food, medical, and logistical assistance provided by international organizations, the latest being the caravan he moved into from a tent after the devastating earthquake that struck Syria and neighboring Turkey in February, exacerbating humanitarian needs in the region.

"Even if the aid is modest, the room is better than nothing," he says, adding, "Food aid and emergency assistance are very crucial for every family."

"Finding a Solution" -
Bab al-Hawa crossing is a vital lifeline for delivering aid to more than four million people, nearly half of whom are displaced, living in areas controlled by Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (formerly known as Al-Nusra Front) and other opposition factions in Idlib and its surroundings.

According to the United Nations, these people need humanitarian aid to sustain themselves after years of conflict, economic collapse, the spread of diseases, and increasing poverty exacerbated by the earthquake.

The mechanism, which expired on Monday, allowed aid to reach 2.7 million people monthly.

Following the failure to extend the mechanism, Swiss Ambassador Pascale Baeriswyl, who is responsible for the file at the Security Council, said that diplomats would immediately resume work to find a solution.

The Security Council allowed the passage of aid through four border points in 2014, but they were gradually reduced under pressure from Moscow and Beijing, Damascus's allies, until they were limited to Bab al-Hawa. On Wednesday, according to an AFP correspondent, the crossing witnessed normal movement with the passage of commercial trucks.

Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vassily Nebenzia accused the West of "provoking Russia to use its veto power." He said, "If our draft did not receive support, we can simply suspend the mechanism," considering that the aid entering through it benefits "terrorists in Idlib" rather than the Syrian people.

In the nearby camp near the town of Batbu in Idlib, Jaziya al-Muhammad al-Hamid, a 55-year-old woman who lost her husband and daughter in the devastating earthquake, expresses her dismay at the Russian stance.

She asks with anguish, "Do you want to fight us over our livelihood and force us to rely on aid boxes?"

The woman, who lives with five of her children, complains about the difficult conditions amid rising prices. She says that the aid she receives, albeit limited, enables her to provide for her family's basic needs.

She adds, "We are starving and thirsty. We need additional assistance... and Russia should not close the crossing."

"Center of Gravity" -
The non-renewal of the mechanism threatens the fate of aid to areas in Idlib and its surroundings, without an immediate halt, as the United Nations stores aid in the region, while two other crossings that Damascus allowed to open after the earthquake, continue to operate until mid-August.

However, Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General António Guterres, affirmed on Tuesday that the Bab al-Hawa crossing remains the "center of gravity" for the UN's cross-border response, noting that 85 percent of aid passes through it.

Since the earthquake, more than 3,700 trucks loaded with aid belonging to the United Nations have crossed through the three crossings, mostly through Bab al-Hawa, with the latest being 79 trucks on Monday.

The Russian veto raises concerns among relief, medical, and human rights organizations.

David Miliband, the head of the International Rescue Committee, called on Security Council members to "heed humanitarian necessities rather than politics," urging the Council to "convene urgently to reverse this deadly decision" and renew the mechanism for an additional 12 months.

Save the Children warned that the lives of millions of children in northwest Syria "entirely depend on aid," calling on the Security Council to "urgently convene and work against this killer decision."

After 12 years of a devastating conflict that claimed the lives of over half a million people, the capacity of international organizations to respond to growing humanitarian needs is diminishing, while at least ninety percent of Syrians live below the poverty line.

Florian Buehr, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, said after the failure to renew the mechanism that the United Nations should "immediately explore alternative means to ensure that Syrians receive sufficient food, medicine, and other essential assistance they desperately need without relying on Russia or President Bashar al-Assad."

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