Reasons behind the entry delay of UN cross-border aid into northwestern Syria

The United Nations logo on aid boxes entered to northwestern Idlib region through Bab al-Hawa crossing - February 10, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Mohammad Nasan Dabel)

The United Nations logo on aid boxes entered to northwestern Idlib region through Bab al-Hawa crossing - February 10, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Mohammad Nasan Dabel)


Enab Baladi – Muhammed Fansa

A month has passed since the oral “understanding” between the United Nations and the Syrian regime regarding the cross-border aid entry through the Bab al-Hawa crossing, but no aid has yet entered, which raises questions about the reasons for this intractability.

The most recent international positions issued by the United Nations on this issue were what was stated by The United Nations spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, who said on August 29 that the UN was trying to find a formula for implementing the “understanding” that it concluded with the regime on the 7th of the same month, to enter humanitarian aid to northwestern Syria.

Dujarric stated during his daily briefing in response to a journalist’s question regarding the passage of three weeks since the announcement of the “understanding” with Damascus, without aid beginning to enter through Bab al-Hawa, by saying, “We are still trying to establish the operational details of how to implement the agreement.”

On August 10, Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, stated that it would take days or weeks for aid trucks to begin crossing through the crossing without mentioning a specific date. This came as a comment on the “understanding” between the United Nations and the regime’s government.

“No contact”

To find out the reasons for stopping the entry of international aid into northwestern Syria from the Bab al-Hawa crossing and the adequacy of the quantities available in the warehouses of partner organizations, Enab Baladi contacted Suvanto Janne, head of WFP North West Syria at The World Food Programme, via email, without obtaining a response until the moment of writing this report.

The Syrian doctor, humanitarian activist, and former aid and advocacy worker, Mohamad Katoub, told Enab Baladi that, according to his information, there is a breakdown in communication between the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Turkish state of Gaziantep and the administration of the Bab al-Hawa crossing, noting that the refusal of coordination or contact comes from the crossing point.

Enab Baladi contacted the media office of the Bab al-Hawa crossing to find out the status of international aid entering the crossing since the announcement of the “understanding,” without obtaining a response until the moment of writing this report.

Dr. Katoub speculated that the reason for the refusal of the Salvation Government (the administration of the Bab al-Hawa crossing is linked to it) to communicate with the United Nations is because the latter did not coordinate with it or review its position before coordinating with the regime and reaching an “understanding” with it.

In his turn, former Syrian diplomat Danny al-Baaj ruled out any disagreement over the terms of the “understanding” between the United Nations and the regime, basing this on the fact that it came after amending the regime’s terms to fit the UN’s work mechanism, and after renewing its “approval” for aid to cross through the Bab al-Salama and al-Raei crossings for three months.

Al-Baaj told Enab Baladi that the United Nations agencies took precautionary steps before the end of the UN mandate for Bab al-Hawa crossing on July 10 to fill their warehouses in northwestern Syria.

The United Nations has carried out 200 aid deliveries to northwestern Syria since the devastating earthquake last February.

On August 30, Convoy No. 200 crossed the Bab Salama crossing and included 17 trucks carrying humanitarian shelter materials from the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to the northwest.

At least 86 Syrian civil organizations and networks operating in northern Syria rejected the current United Nations position, which is conditional on delivering humanitarian aid to northwestern Syria by waiting for the regime’s approval.

It was stated in a joint statement on August 31 that the “understanding” transferred the approval of the crossing of UN aid across the border from the powers of the Security Council to rely on the approval of the regime, which restricted humanitarian operations across the border to crossings and specific time periods.

The statement did not stipulate any guarantees for the continuation of this approval, which places humanitarian work under a constant threat of being stopped due to the regime’s history known for its continuous violation of human rights.

Not submitting to any party

The organizations participating in the statement stressed their adoption of the legal opinion, which stipulates that the arrival of humanitarian aid across the borders in northern Syria and all Syrian areas outside the control of the regime is legal in accordance with international humanitarian law for all humanitarian bodies and organizations, including United Nations agencies, and does not require the approval of the regime nor a mandate from the Security Council.

In the event that the United Nations is unable to ensure the continuation of its independent humanitarian work across the borders, new mechanisms must be worked on to ensure the continuation of humanitarian operations through Syrian local organizations and foreign organizations. This is according to a more sustainable path that is based on the interests of the affected communities, overcomes their fears, and ensures that residents have access to this aid without conditions, which helps in long-term planning for humanitarian programs.

Dr. Katoub believes that the entry of aid should not be subject to the approval of any party or any political attraction.

Regarding the impact of the regime’s “approval” on the entry of aid if this mechanism begins to operate through Bab al-Hawa, Katoub explained that the aid does not include only loaded trucks, but there are programs and operations for managing health facilities, water stations, bakeries, and many humanitarian programs in every sector, including shelter, health, education, and food security, managed from the UN office in Gaziantep, where money is pumped across borders to manage these projects and to finance operational expenses.

The main fear of humanitarian organizations, in addition to the amount of aid that will pass, is that the programs will be affected or controlled by the regime, as it has a hand in stopping them, and it previously stipulated that the aid be delivered in coordination with the Syrian Red Crescent under its control, according to Katoub.

Appearance of effects

In a report by the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) on August 28, it said that since last week, bread has been cut off from most of the camps in northwestern Syria, in conjunction with a shortage of water delivered to them, and the high cost of most food commodities, as a result of the suspension of the entry of UN aid through Bab al-Hawa crossing for seven weeks, which portends a “humanitarian catastrophe” in the region.

In turn, the Syrian Response Coordination Group (SRCG) team condemned the lack of seriousness of the international community in assuming its responsibilities before the Syrians in northwestern Syria and within the camps after more than a month has passed since the entry of aid from Bab al-Hawa stopped, and about four weeks after the “understanding” between the United Nations and the Syrian regime.

According to the statement published on August 21, the relief team monitored a complete cessation of the food security program for the displaced, as thousands of families were forced to reduce the number of daily meals to one meal.

No less than 4.5 million people live in northwestern Syria, including 1.9 million people in camps, while 90% of them depend on UN humanitarian aid, said the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).



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