From July 2014 through to early 2020, the cross-border resolution authorized four border crossings for the provision of humanitarian aid into Syria. It was reviewed and renewed annually by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), to maintain the flow of humanitarian aid into areas that are not under the control of the Syrian government. In 2019 and 2020, Russia and China vetoed the renewal of the full cross-border resolution encompassing previously agreed upon border crossings, removing Bab al-Salam, Al-Yarubiyah and Al-Ramtha from the list of approved humanitarian border crossing points. As a result, only one border crossing, Bab al-Hawa, remains in the current cross-border resolution (UNSCR 2533) as a formal humanitarian crossing point into Syria. On 10 July 2021, the resolution will be submitted to a vote and this last access route into Syria is at risk of being closed.
Failure to renew the cross-border authorization would further aggravate the already desperate humanitarian situation in northwest Syria. Humanitarian and medical aid would be drastically reduced and would take longer to reach people. As one of the few remaining medical actors in the area, MSF would face increased challenges in reaching the most vulnerable populations in northwest Syria. Most hospitals and health facilities would lack the necessary medical supplies to operate, and patients’ lives would be put at risk. Furthermore, the COVID-19 response and vaccination campaign in the area also risks being jeopardized by the closure of the last remaining border-crossing point, including the flow of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) materials, oxygen tanks, respirators, essential medications and COVID-19 vaccines.
“After a decade of war, the renewal of the Security Council resolution is now more critical than ever. The lives of millions of people, the majority of whom are women and children, depend on it. While MSF is not a mandated implementing partner of the UN, and does not rely solely on the UNSC resolution permitting cross-border importation of aid into Syria, our teams will surely feel the burden of any closure immediately and will not be able to fill the void if UN agencies and other organizations sharply reduce their aid in northwest Syria” explains Dr Faisal Omar, MSF Head of Mission for Syria.
Ongoing economic sanctions on Syria, in addition to a worsening economic crisis and currency devaluation in 2021, have already considerably worsened living conditions for the population in all areas. According to UN agencies, food basket prices are up by more than 220% while 80% of the population remains under the poverty line and 90% of children are now reliant on humanitarian aid.
“The Bab al-Hawa crossing is currently the only lifeline for Idlib governorate, in northwest Syria. If this lifeline is cut off, we would face many forms of death. If the medical supply stops, we might lose our ability to treat patients, as our current stock can only last three months. And if the supply of food and potable water stops, diseases and epidemics would affect the Internal Displaced People (IDPs) and local population. Some people in this area have been displaced more than 14 times, and they are entirely reliant on humanitarian assistance”, says MSF Field Coordinator for Syria.
Over the past year, particularly during our response to the COVID-19 pandemic in northeast Syria, MSF has witnessed first-hand how the decision of the UN Security Council not to renew the UN cross-border aid mechanism via the Al-Yarubiyah border crossing already created significant human suffering, preventing vital lifesaving assistance from reaching northeast Syria via Iraq. This scenario must not be repeated in the northwest this year.
MSF calls on permanent and non-permanent members of the UN Security Council to renew the UNSCR cross-border resolution, as well as to reinstate the cross-border points of Bab al-Salam crossing to the northwest and Al-Yarubiyah crossing to the northeast. Cross-borders remain the only viable humanitarian channels to cover growing needs in northern Syria.
NOTE FOR EDITORS
Over the past decade of conflict, Médecins sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has consistently readapted to the changing context in and around Syria to continue responding to growing humanitarian and medical needs in the country. This ranges from trauma and wound care, to maternal and child health services, as well as vaccination campaigns aimed at preventing the spread of deadly diseases.
MSF is currently supporting 8 hospitals in northwest Syria including 1 burn unit, in addition to 12 Primary Health Care centers (PHCs) and 5 ambulances for referrals. In addition, MSF supports 14 mobile clinics serving more than 80 Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps. MSF is also running Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) activities in close to 90 IDP camps across the northwest.
In northeast Syria, MSF is supporting two COVID-19 inpatient facilities, one comprehensive primary healthcare clinic which includes an ER, Non Communicable Diseases (NCD) and malnutrition care, routine vaccination in 12 locations and supports the population of al-Hol camp with water and sanitation, nutrition care and primary level healthcare.
Most recently, MSF has guided health care facilities with their COVID-19 response following the increase of case numbers. Six COVID-19 isolation and treatment centers were opened in northern Syria in the past year along with rapid diagnostics testing services provided through mobile clinics. MSF is also hosting World Health Organization (WHO)-trained COVID-19 vaccination teams at its health facilities in the northwest and supporting with health promotion linked to COVID-19 prevention and vaccine hesitancy.