Kusay Sibib / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
A shared United Nations Security Council passed a resolution on Saturday that only one border crossing – instead of the current two – may remain open to UN aid convoys in Syria, which is another blow to a humanitarian aid program for millions of displaced people.
The result alarmed aid groups who were struggling to help prisoners and those at risk in the nine-year civil war.
In its fifth and final attempt this week to vote on the subject, 12 nations voted in favor of the resolution, including the United States. Three countries – Russia, China and the Dominican Republic – abstained.
“Today’s resolution bitterly disappointed us,” said United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft.
The United States and European countries wanted to keep the UN aid routes through the two border crossings. The remaining crossing for UN aid is the Bab al-Hawa border crossing from Turkey, where the UN serves millions of displaced people in the Syrian province of Idlib. And even this route approval will only take a year.
The Council had been arguing on the subject throughout the week and had missed a deadline a day earlier to renew the program, which had been running for six years.
Craft said a number of Russian and Chinese vetos this week on resolutions that would have allowed more help was a “stain on humanity.”
Russia, a close ally of the Syrian regime, led efforts to cut the aid program, as in the past, because the aid is not in cooperation with the Syrian government.
Food and medicine are being shipped through Turkey to areas outside the Syrian government’s control, including an area in Idlib province that is largely in rebellious hands.
After the vote, Russia’s deputy UN envoy Dmitry Polyanskiy said these areas “are controlled and cannot be monitored by international terrorists and fighters”. He said Russia was in favor of aid deliveries in coordination with “its legal government,” referring to the Syrian regime.
When the Security Council considered renewing the cross-border aid convoys, a new crisis arose on Thursday with the first confirmed coronavirus case in the rebel-held Idlib. A Syrian doctor who lives in a Turkish border town and works in one of the few remaining hospitals along the Syrian border has tested positive. Two more cases had been reported by Saturday morning.
Humanitarian agencies have prepared for an outbreak and warned of catastrophes as more than a million destitute Syrians are feared in camps. Social distancing is impossible, soap and water are in short supply. The camp population consists mainly of women and children who were displaced from other parts of Syria during the war.
Aid groups warn that the current level of aid is already far from what is needed and that this need is growing.
“Russia’s cynical and cruel maneuvering with China’s support is a tragic example of the broken United Nations humanitarian system,” said Susannah Sirkin, director of politics and senior advisor at Physicians for Human Rights. She informed the Security Council earlier this week when, among other things, her group urged continued aid.