Following a visit to Hatay in southern Turkey, the top United Nations humanitarian official has called for greater assistance for Syrians in need, both inside the country and across the region, warning that the humanitarian situation for millions of people remains “unrelentingly distressing and dire.”
“The people of Syria continue to suffer. The violence, fear and deprivation force Syrians to make the impossible choices of leaving their homeland for a tolerable life in another part of the country or across the border or continent,” Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said in a press release issued ahead of his briefing to the UN Security Council in the afternoon.
“Our challenge is both to scale up assistance to reach every person in need, and to support the efforts of those trying to bring the crisis to an end. We need to give Syrians real hope of a better future,” he added.
Mr. O’Brien noted some 6.5 million people are internally displaced, and some five million people have fled for safety in other countries. The UN estimates that 13.5 million Syrians across the region are in need of some form of humanitarian and protection assistance.
“The humanitarian situation for millions of Syrians across the region remains unrelentingly distressing and dire” he stressed.
Mr. O’Brien, who is also the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, visited an orphanage in Reyhanli, meeting Syrian children who are provided both education and a sense of normality in the classroom.
“I heard first-hand the hopes of these children and the harrowing stories of many families’ escape to safety,” he said. “There is a clear need for psycho-social support.”
He also met a young doctor who was injured during the deadly airstrike on the al-Quds Hospital in Aleppo this past month and is now in urgent need of medical assistance abroad.
Mr. O’Brien underscored that cross-border aid operations from Turkey into Syria are vital, reaching some four million people who cannot be reached via other routes.
In addition, he said he visited the zero-point near the Bab al Hawa border crossing.
“I paid tribute to the Turkish, Syrian, and international NGOs who continue to work tirelessly to provide critical and life-saving assistance in a dangerous and volatile environment. We must do everything we can to support them,” he said.
Mr. O’Brien noted that he discussed the progress and challenges in delivering aid with the Governor of Hatay, and representatives of international and local non-governmental organizations.
Despite significant progress in reaching millions of Syrians with life-saving assistance, many programmes remain critically underfunded, he said, urging donors to fulfil their pledges and fund the critical aid and protection activities designed to help the most vulnerable people throughout 2016.
Visiting Hatay immediately after the World Humanitarian Summit, which wrapped up Tuesday in Istanbul, Mr. O’Brien spoke of the commitments made by world leaders to put people affected by conflict and disaster at the centre of humanitarian action, and to alleviate suffering.
“At the Summit, we heard strong words about sharing responsibility for refugees, safeguarding their rights, and working to secure the financing we need to save lives. We must now demand that these words are turned into meaningful action. It must start here in Hatay,” he stressed.
In his briefing to the Council, Mr. O’Brien underscored that he had promised to carry the stories of the people he had met during his trip to the 15-member body in order to highlight – once more the “tragic and ever-worsening” situation in Syria.
“But truth be told, I have run out of words to fully explain how the actions of the parties to the conflict have led to the devastation of a country and its people,” he stressed. “As the war continued, it is innocent civilians and children who continue to be subjected to even greater levels of suffering and misery than could ever have been imagined five years ago.”
Mr. O’Brien told the Council that he remained particularly concerned at the upsurge in violence across various parts of the country and its impact on civilians.
“Indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure – including schools and hospitals, mosques and public markets – continue with impunity and total disregard for international humanitarian law,” he said.
Emphasizing that the continued use of “siege and starvation as a weapon of war is reprehensible,” Mr. O’Brien said he was continually monitoring the situation on the ground throughout Syria and, based on the latest information, estimates indicated that some 592,700 people were currently living in besieged areas.
That figure includes 452,700 people besieged by the Government of Syria in various locations in rural Damascus as well as in the Al Wa’er area of Homs city, an area he had visited just a few months ago but which had been closed off since March.
Elsewhere, he noted that 110,000 people were besieged by ISIL in Deir ez-Zor city; 20,000 people by non-State armed groups and the Nusrah Front in Foah and Kefraya in Idlib; and 10,000 besieged by the Government of Syria and non-State armed groups in Yarmouk in Damascus.
“These figures are shocking as they underscore the sharply deteriorating situation for civilians even while the cessation of hostilities is in place,” he said.
“The punishment of civilians through besiegement tactics must stop immediately,” he continued, stressing that the primary responsibility lies with the party who maintains the siege, and “routinely and systematically denies people the basic necessities of life and freedom of movement.”
The humanitarian chief said that the humanitarian and protection situation in many hard-to-reach areas also remained critical, including in some that are on the brink of besiegement. He remained extremely concerned about the conditions for the hundreds of thousands of civilians in northern rural Homs, specifically in the towns of Rastan, Talbiseh and Taldo, as well as in the adjacent area of Habarnafse in rural Hama.
He said the situation across Aleppo governorate also remains alarming for civilians, while in Aleppo city, fighting had continued to affect civilians over the past few weeks also impacted humanitarian operations.
Deliberate interference and restrictions by the parties, most notably the Government of Syria, continued to prevent effective aid delivery, Mr. O’Brien said.
A plan for June, requesting to reach 1.1 million people in 34 besieged, hard-to-reach and other priority cross-line locations, including all those places that could not be reached in May, had been recently submitted, Mr. O’Brien noted.
“I call on the Syrian Government to approve this plan in full and to remove any and all conditionalities, not least as to the amount or type of aid that can be delivered,” he said.
“Sieges need to be lifted once and for all – and immediately. They only exist today because of a lack of will to end them,” he concluded.