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Labour urges ministers to pile pressure on US and China amid bitter dispute over ‘lifeline’ coronavirus aid for Syria

A third security council meeting broke up without action on Tuesday.

3 min read

Labour has urged the Government to do more to break a bitter United Nations deadlock between Washington and Beijing over “lifeline” coronavirus help for war-torn Syria.

Aid groups reacted with fury this week as the UN’s Security Council failed to agree on a plan that would have continued humanitarian access to the country during the pandemic, after Russia and China moved to block access through Syria’s Al Yarubiyah border crossing with Iraq.

Veto-holders China and the United States are also at loggerheads over the aid response to the pandemic, with the US refusing to support a role for the World Health Organisation.

A third UN Security Council meeting broke up without agreement on Tuesday, with the deadline for a resolution on aid corridors now looming.

In a letter to International Development Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan, shadow aid minister Anna McMorrin said that Syria, which has been at war since 2011, is likely to be particularly hard-hit by Covid-19.

“As we have witnessed from our own experience of the Covid-19 crisis at home, each day brings new challenges,” she said.

“However, the severity of pre-existing issues in Syria, compunded by Covid-19 and the inability of fragile and low-income states and regions to tackle the virus effectively, will have implications for our own safety and security at home. There is a moral and practical imperative for us to act to protect global public health as well as supporting the most vulnerable groups among us globally.”

And, despite contacting the International Development department on April 30, Ms McMorrin said she was "disappointed that I have not yet received a response or acknowledgement and no indication from your Department as to when I may expect a reply" to her questions on the matter.

Foreign Office minister Lord Ahmad told peers earlier this month that the Government acknowledged “the importance of keeping those corridors open”.

And he added: “We hope that not only will this happen but that we will be able to open up additional humanitarian corridors.”

Seizing on those comments, the shadow international development minister wrote: “The UK Government appears to understand the need to respond to the urgent humanitarian situation in Syria. 

“So in keeping with the spirit of goodwill, I await your timely response and confirmation that you will be ensuring the UK uses it influence to call for the renewal of the resolution and for the opening up of the border crossing at Al Yarubiyah to ensure millions of people have urgent and vital access to humanitarian aid.”

Ms McMorrin told PoliticsHome: “We are moving ever closer to severing the lifeline for millions whilst the UK silently facilitates bureaucratic obstacles to vital humanitarian aid. 

“The UK Government’s silence is deafening when faced with its own mantra of ‘no one left behind’.
“Now is not the time for consensus on cross-border assistance to fray. The cost of the mandate unravelling is too high a price to pay – not only risking thousands of Syrian lives, but the lives of UK citizens if the incubation of the virus results in a second wave.”


Speaking at the UN this week, the UK’s deputy permanent representative Jonathan Allen urged members to “keep the politics out of our humanitarian discussions”.

He told delegates: “The UK is deeply concerned about the potentially catastrophic impact of COVID-19 in Syria, as highlighted by the World Health Organization. There are 48 confirmed cases in areas controlled by the Syrian authorities, as well as confirmed cases in the north-east and reported cases in the north-west. There are probably already many more.“
And he added: “We must put aside our political differences and act on the basis of humanitarian needs to authorise temporary cross-border access through Yaroubiya. 

“And we must, of course, renew Resolution 2504. There is no other responsible course of action any of us could take.”

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