Northwest Syria: UNSC failure to renew the cross-border resolution for provision of humanitarian aid [Updates]

[Update on 12/7]

MSF Head of Mission for Syria, Sebastien Gay, comments on the UNSC failure to renew the cross-border resolution during their session on 11 July 2023: 

The failure to renew the cross-border resolution at the United Nations Security Council meeting on July 11 is shameful. Politics is being put ahead of the lives of millions of Syrians living in unimaginably precarious conditions and dependent on international aid, and the delivery of this essential aid is being jeopardized. If not resolved, this failure will inevitably contribute to reinforcing the isolation of northwest Syria and to the interruption of the provision of lifesaving aid for people in this region. We urge all parties to take their responsibility in prioritizing the right to lifesaving assistance of the Syrian population in the northwest and renew the cross-border resolution with the utmost urgency.”

Médecins Sans Frontières calls on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to renew the cross-border resolution (UNSCR 2672) for the delivery of humanitarian aid into northwest Syria. Ensuring increased, expanded, and sustainable humanitarian access through all possible means and crossing points is crucial, to secure the uninterrupted provision of lifesaving aid for people in northwest Syria.

“The upcoming vote on 10 July represents a critical moment for northwest Syria. It is disheartening to see that people’s crucial access to humanitarian aid has become entangled in political negotiations,” says Sebastien Gay, MSF Head of Mission for Syria. “Failure to ensure a regular, sustainable means of aid delivery puts the lives and health of people at risk.”

The devastating earthquake that struck northwest Syria on 6 February this year has exposed the already-dire humanitarian situation and shed light on the fragile and deficient nature of humanitarian access to the region. The earthquake was a critical turning point that brought attention to the gaps in the humanitarian response and efficiency, as it had failed to adequately address the scale and the scope of the needs.

“For nearly three days following the earthquake, no additional international humanitarian aid arrived in northwest Syria, leaving people without shelter, exposed to freezing temperatures, and lacking proper healthcare,” says Gay. “The delayed arrival of lifesaving assistance highlighted the isolation of northwest Syria.” 

Together with other organizations, MSF has repeatedly warned that the limited channels through which humanitarian aid can pass compromise the ability to respond to emergencies. This recent disaster provided undeniable evidence of the need to diversify aid channels and ensure their long-term viability. With proper access, many deaths following the earthquake could have been prevented.

Drawing from this recent experience, the failure to renew the cross-border resolution and establishing a sustainable access to humanitarian aid in northwest Syria would have disastrous consequences on the physical and mental health of people. Over the years, the cross-border mechanism has faced significant setbacks, including a reduction in authorized crossing points from four to one, and a decrease in validity of the renewal from one year to six months.Crossing points for the delivery of humanitarian aid in northwest Syria.© MSF

A non-renewal would restrict MSF and other organizations’ capacity to provide lifesaving assistance to people in northwest Syria. Despite the current efforts towards contingency planning, the cross-border humanitarian channel coordinated and monitored by the UN remains the most reliable and cost-efficient option for MSF. To maintain this scale of medical activities, and respond to the enormous medical and humanitarian needs, the sustainability of our supply chain is crucial.

Furthermore, the current six-month validity of the cross-border mechanism hampers the emergency preparedness of international and national organizations and groups, and inhibits the implementation of longer-term and sustainable projects, as funding cycles are linked to this mechanism. MSF has witnessed first-hand the negative impact of funding shortfalls on vital medical facilities. To ensure emergency preparedness, the constant threat of non-renewal forces humanitarian organizations to stockpile supplies excessively, resulting in waste.

It is crucial for the Bab Al-Salam and Al-Rai crossing points, which are not covered by the UN Security Council resolution and were opened following the earthquake, to remain open for humanitarian convoys. However, the extension of these points' opening should not be used to justify not renewing the UNSC Resolution, as Bab Al-Hawa remains the most reliable, cost-effective, and widely used crossing point.

The crossline, which is the mechanism used for delivering humanitarian aid from government-controlled areas into northwest Syria, can be complementary, but not a substitute for the cross-border mechanism. Discussions about humanitarian aid channels should focus on practical implementation, safety, efficiency, and timeliness.

MSF reiterates its call on the UN Security Council to renew the cross-border mechanism.

“An independent and impartial humanitarian access to northwest Syria must be ensured at all costs. It must also remain free from any political interference, as the lives of millions depend on it." ──  Sebastien Gay, MSF Head of Mission for Syria