Humanitarian access to northwest Syria must be ensured

Cholera in NW Syria, MSF responses

News update

On January 9, 2022, the UN Security Council (UNSC) unanimously voted to renew the cross-border resolution for northwestern Syria for six months.

Francisco Otero y Villar, MSF head of mission for Syria, gave the following statement:

The United Nations Security Council's decision to renew the cross-border resolution and keep Bab Al-Hawa open is a critical and essential step. It will prevent a sudden disruption in the delivery of aid for the 2.4 million people who rely on it monthly in northwestern Syria. 

However, doing so for only six months is insufficient and causes concerns. This short-term renewal of the UNSC's cross-border resolution has already created gaps for organizations operating in northwestern Syria in the past year. It has also limited their ability to work on long-term projects and solutions to respond to the people’s humanitarian needs.  

We continue to call for ongoing and increased support to meet the growing needs in northwestern Syria, as well as measures to ensure the sustainability of the humanitarian aid.

Amman/New York, December 21, 2022—The United Nations Security Council must vote to renew and extend the Syria cross-border resolution (UNSCR 2642) for at least 12 months to allow for the continuing provision of humanitarian aid into northwest Syria, said the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

“While we urge for continuous and enhanced support to respond to increasing needs, it is crucial to keep the flow of aid going and stop the enduring humanitarian crisis,” said Francisco Otero y Villar, MSF head of mission for Syria. “Millions of people will have significantly less access to food, water, and health care if the UNSC fails to renew the cross-border resolution or renews it for less than 12 months. The failure to maintain this humanitarian lifeline will lead to preventable deaths.”

Currently, Bab Al-Hawa is the only open humanitarian crossing point into northwest Syria on the border with Turkey. For the 4.4 million people who live in northwest Syria, cross-border aid is still crucial, as there is no viable alternative to getting vital aid into the area in sight, and 2.4 million people directly benefit from it on a monthly basis.

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After 12 years of war, the need for humanitarian assistance and medical care in northwest Syria exceeds what is provided by humanitarian organizations, even with the cross-border mechanism in place. Their capacity to fulfill the needs of people, particularly food and health care, is being weakened by the prolonged economic crisis, hostilities, and a general decrease of humanitarian funding over the years.

A cholera outbreak, which has been spreading in Syria since September and is endangering the lives of thousands of people, is the most recent illustration of this ongoing crisis. Should there be an escalation of the fighting in Syria’s north, a new influx of displaced people would arrive in the country’s northwest, adding to the humanitarian burden in the region.

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In July, the Security Council renewed the resolution for six months only, following numerous rounds of discussions after Russia vetoed a one-year renewal. Unfortunately, this crucial vote on Syria has become a tool of political negotiation. The resolution will be put to a vote again on January 10, 2023, and it’s possible that this last humanitarian entry point into northwest Syria will be closed.

If Bab Al-Hawa is closed, a new level of complexity will be introduced to the funding mechanisms of many humanitarian organizations in the area. The continuity of providing aid in northwest Syria would also be at risk. Many international and local humanitarian organizations operating in the area rely on pooled funds linked to the cross-border resolution. The ever-looming threat of a non-renewal of the UNSC cross-border resolution already creates gaps for organizations operating in the area. In addition, the capacity to respond to emergencies is also linked to the continuation of funding. Despite the deterioration of the health situation, and 1.84 million internally displaced people living in camps and informal sites—of whom 80 percent are women and children—non-governmental organizations still face difficulties to cover the funding they need.

If so, the capacity of humanitarian organizations to provide aid in northwest Syria would be significantly impacted. This uncertainty around the reorganization of the access to northwest Syria will add increased pressure on the existing humanitarian response and affect the scale and quality of medical assistance offered. Most of MSF’s humanitarian supplies into northwest Syria in 2022 have gone through Bab Al-Hawa.

“Changing how we get aid into the region has a cost, and it will impact the way other organizations respond,” said Otero y Villar. “It would mean hospitals will close because they cannot pay people working there, and clinics and health care centers will be run without basic medications like insulin.”

To date, the Bab Al-Hawa crossing remains the fastest, most effective, transparent, and least expensive way of getting aid supplies into northwest Syria.

“The provision of impartial medical care must be guaranteed wherever it is needed,” Otero y Villar said. “There is no choice. Bab Al-Hawa must stay open.”