US envoy announces $240 million in new aid to Syria

A senior UN aid official said on Thursday millions of people in northwest Syria face disaster if the United Nations fails to approve an extension of cross-border humanitarian operations next month.

Friday 04/06/2021
US ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield talks to a rescue worker as she visits the Cilvegozu border gate, located opposite the Syrian commercial crossing point Bab al-Hawa,Hatay province, Turkey, June 3, 2021. (REUTERS)
US ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield talks to a rescue worker as she visits the Cilvegozu border gate, located opposite the Syrian commercial crossing point Bab al-Hawa,Hatay province, Turkey, June 3, 2021. (REUTERS)

DAMASCUS--The US Ambassador to the United Nations announced on Thursday nearly $240 million in humanitarian funding to support the people of Syria, Syrian refugees and countries hosting them, and called for access through international crossings to allow the delivery of aid.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield made the announcement during a visit to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing between Turkey and Syria — the sole remaining point of access for humanitarian aid to enter the conflict-ravaged country.

The ambassador is in Turkey on a four-day visit seeking to ensure that humanitarian aid can be delivered to Syria across borders — a programme which Russia, Syria’s closest ally, has severely limited in recent years, insisting that the Syrian government should control all assistance to millions in need. The international crossing points were reduced to a single border crossing from Turkey to Syria’s rebel-held northwest at Russia’s insistence.

Millions in need 

“I’m proud to announce the United States is providing nearly $240 million in additional humanitarian funding for the people of Syria and for the communities that host them,” Thomas-Greenfield said, according to a statement from her office.

“Right now, more than 13 million Syrian people are in dire need of assistance. That’s the population of Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington D.C. combined.”

“Four in five people in northwest Syria need humanitarian assistance. For millions of civilians in Idlib, this is their lifeline. Over the last year and a half, some members of the Security Council succeeded in shamefully closing two other crossings into Syria… Bab al-Hawa is literally all that’s left,” she added.

A senior UN aid official said on Thursday millions of people in northwest Syria face disaster if the United Nations fails to approve an extension of cross-border humanitarian operations next month.

Some 3 million people, many of them displaced by fighting elsewhere in Syria during the decade-long conflict, have sought shelter near the border with Turkey, outside the control of President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

“It’s going to be a disaster if the Security Council resolution is not extended. We know that people are really going to suffer,” said Mark Cutts, UN deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis.

“Our expectation from the council is that they put the needs of the civilians first,” Cutts said at an aid supply centre in the Turkish border town of Reyhanli. “In northwest Syria you have some of the most vulnerable people anywhere in the world.”

 Restricted access 

Currently around 1,000 UN trucks a month enter Syria at the single crossing point of Bab al-Hawa to deliver food, medical supplies and humanitarian aid, trying to meet the needs of four out of five people in northwest Syria.

The United States is seeking the reauthorisation of UN access at Bab al-Hawa and the reopening of other border crossings before the current UN Security Council mandate for humanitarian aid deliveries expires on July 10. There is strong support in the 15-member council for maintaining and even adding border crossings, but Russia holds the key.

“This isn’t a complicated issue. We want the UN to bring food to starving children and protection to homeless families. We want the UN to be able to deliver vaccines in the middle of a global pandemic. We want the suffering to stop,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

She said she was also willing to work with Russia to find ways for aid to be delivered “cross-line” from Syrian government-controlled areas.

Russia, which supports Assad, has accused his Western opponents of ignoring the role that could be played by supplies brought cross-line from Damascus.

“We have spent more than one year negotiating on both sides to have both cross-line and cross-border aid,” Cutts told the US envoy in a briefing near the border.

“Despite all our efforts, we have not managed to get a single truck cross-line. This is not for a lack of trying from the UN side, but rather because it is a war zone.”

In addition to the difficulties over restricted access, the aid operation was starved of cash, he said.

“What we really need is to scale up funding. We need more access, not less. Take that back with you to the United Nations Security Council,â€‌ Cutts told Thomas-Greenfield.

 Tensions with Turkey 

Thomas-Greenfield met Wednesday with Ibrahim Kalin, a top aide to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey hosts some 4 million refugees.

The talks come ahead of US President Joe Biden’s first meeting with Erdogan on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Brussels on June 14.

Ties between Ankara and Washington, which once considered each other as strategic partners, steadily deteriorated in recent years over differences on Syria, Turkey’s cooperation with Russia and Turkish naval interventions in the eastern Mediterranean, which US officials have described as destabilising.

The US Agency for International Development, or USAID, said the new US funding announced by Thomas-Greenfield, would support aid agencies providing assistance, “including food for displaced families in Syria and the region” and support bakeries in Syria.

It would also provide psychosocial support and other services for children, rehabilitate water and sanitation systems and provide cash or vouchers to help Syrians meet basic needs.

USAID said the United States was the world’s largest donor to the Syria crisis, and has provided more than $13 billion since the start of the conflict.