UN's paltry six-month extension of Syria cross-border aid mandate slammed by NGOs
Twelve of the 15 members of the UN Security Council voted for a six-month extension of the Bab Al-Hawa aid route into northwest Syria, a proposal that appears similar to a Russian draft resolution rejected by the West on Friday.
The UK, US, and France abstained on Tuesday's vote after its demand for a 12-month extension was vetoed by Russia on Friday.
The cr0ss-border mandate expired on Sunday at midnight, effectively halting life-saving aid to Idlib, where as many as 3 million people rely on humanitarian assistance.
While aid groups were relieved of the extension, they criticised Russia for not relenting on its insistence that the aid mandate should only be extended by six months.
This has been fiercely opposed by aid groups as the next vote would take place during the peak of winter when aid agencies are stretched to their core and Syrians at their most vulnerable.
"We're relieved to see that the cross-border aid will continue and grateful to those who advocated for this vital lifeline -but it's also disheartening to see the renewal for only six months, to be voted on right in the middle of the most vulnerable season," Amany Qaddour, Regional Director at Syria Relief & Development, which provides vital medical support to people in Idlib, told The New Arab.
"In winter, we already know that camps and tents will flood, children may die barefoot in the snow, and food will be scarce. It's now time for humanitarians to find creative ways to deliver aid; a method that doesn’t involve endangering the most vulnerable groups of Syrian society."
President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) David Miliband said the needs of Syrians in Idlib have never been higher with over 2 million reliant on assistance.
"While we are relieved that the Security Council has finally voted to renew the cross-border resolution for Syria, IRC finds it inexplicable on humanitarian grounds the reduction from 12 months to six months in the operation of the Bab Al-Hawa cross-border operation from Turkey into Syria," Miliband said in a statement.
He also sounded the alarm about the vote taking place in winter, when Syrians in Idlib camps experience freezing temperatures, flash floods, and losses in income.
"The winter of 2023 is likely to be no different, and so renewing this lifeline so that it will expire at the height of next winter risks Syrians’ access to life-saving support, such as shelter and food, just when they will need it most," he added.
NGOs fear that with the next UN vote set to take place in the heart of winter, Russia will be presented with a golden opportunity to push through its demands for the Syrian regime to take over the distribution of aid.
"Once again today we have seen Russia bullying the UN Security Council into submitting to its demands and ignoring the humanitarian needs of Syrian civilians," said Sara Hashash, Communications Director at The Syria Campaign in a statement.
"For years Russia has been holding humanitarian aid hostage in Syria and playing political games with the lives of millions of civilians. It is outrageous that the lives of civilians in northwest Syria depend on a decision by Russia - which has committed war crimes in Syria - about whether or not to starve them. Just this morning Russian fighter jets and Syrian regime forces were bombing villages in southern Idlib."