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The UK must work with the UN Security Council to allow lifesaving aid into Syria

The UK must work with the UN Security  Council to allow lifesaving aid into Syria
4 min read

When it comes to the crisis in Syria, the international community must do more to work diplomatically to re-develop the country.

At a time when humanitarian needs are at an all-time high – compounded by conflict, impacts of the crisis in Ukraine, economic downturn, drought and Covid-19 – I stand by my previous convictions, not just that something must be done, but that something can be done. 

For this reason among many others, I find the gradual disappearance of the Syrian crisis from headlines, and from the United Kingdom’s recently published International Development Strategy, deeply troubling. That’s why I took a stand against government cuts to the UK aid budget. Because the violence has not stopped. The trauma has not ceased. The suffering has not abated. And more can be done. 

The UK must work with the UN Security Council to allow lifesaving aid into Syria

On 10 July, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2585, which authorises the use of the one remaining border crossing for humanitarian aid into Syria, Bab al-Hawa, will expire. If this resolution is not renewed, access to food assistance, Covid-19 vaccinations, critical medical supplies and essential services for millions currently dependent on humanitarian assistance is likely to end. 

Renewal of the Security Council Resolution requires more than an appeal to humanitarian principles. It involves a complex web of negotiations involving relationships with President Bashar al-Assad, as well as Russia and Turkey. The UK’s International Development Strategy committed to using diplomatic action to address humanitarian crises. Now is the time for this action. While the world is focused on competing crises, the UK should prioritise diplomatic efforts with the UN Security Council to protect cross-border access on which millions of civilians in Syria rely. 

After 11 years of conflict, the humanitarian crisis is worse than it’s ever been. Around 14.6 million people depend on aid to meet their basic needs. And up to 80 per cent of those in need of assistance are women and girls. Conflict and economic crisis have pushed 90 per cent of Syrians into extreme poverty. With household expenditure exceeding income by 50 per cent, basic items such as food and water are impossible to afford.

In the northwest – Syria’s last remaining rebel enclave – the situation is particularly dire. Of the region’s 4.4 million people, 4.1 million depend on humanitarian assistance – up from 3.4 million last year. Yet, as the area remains outside of government control, the likelihood of aid being delivered from government territory is slim. This leaves renewal of the cross-border resolution as the only feasible pathway for assistance. 

In 2021 alone, the UN Security Council authorisation of cross-border assistance allowed humanitarian organisations to reach over 2.4 million people. Removing this channel of assistance will have devastating humanitarian impacts on civilians, and there is no viable alternative for access.

Against this backdrop, it is plain to see how disastrous the crossing’s closure would be. It would compound the existing crisis, severing the population’s last remaining aid conduit. Front-line humanitarian actors, like Syria Relief – the UK’s largest Syria-focused NGO –  which reaches millions of Syrians a year, relies on Bab al-Hawa for many of its vital programmes. The resolution also authorises the UN’s ability to financially support its partner organisations on the ground. Without this support, many local NGOs would be unable to continue their vital work. 

As the eyes of the world are focused on Ukraine, political and financial support has rightly been directed its way. But this should not be at the expense of Syria. For 11 years, the people of Syria have endured unprecedented suffering and, as things stand, the future looks equally bleak. Failure to renew this vital lifeline when it is still so urgently needed would have devastating consequences for the most marginalised. The international community cannot turn its back on one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our time. The UK must use every diplomatic effort to ensure the UN Security Council re-authorises the crossing in July. The alternative is unthinkable.

 

Andrew Mitchell is the Conservative MP for Sutton Coldfield.

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