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Dozens of Syrian NGOs urge UN to continue cross-border aid

Eighty groups warn a failure to renew mandate for aid crossing 'would have a catastrophic impact'
Bab al-Hawa, located along the border of northwest Syria, has the approval to continue operations until 10 July 2021.
Bab al-Hawa, on the northwest border of Syria, has approvals to continue operations only until 10 July 2021 (AFP)

Eighty Syrian organisations have called on the United Nations Security Council to continue allowing the delivery of humanitarian aid to rebel-held northwestern Syria beyond 10 July, following Russian threats to stop the provision of relief to the territories.

"We are adding our voice as Syrian NGOs to the voices of our international partners and to the call issued collectively by the head of UN agencies working in Syria to reiterate that there is no alternative for the cross-border modality to reach the people in need in northwest Syria," read the statement released on Wednesday.

Aid had been entering the war-torn country via Turkey through four border crossings that were approved by the 15-member Security Council in 2014. In July 2020, however, the mandate keeping the crossings open expired. Following several Russian and Chinese vetoes at the council, all but the Bab al-Hawa crossing were closed indefinitely

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Bab al-Hawa, on the northwestern Syria border, is authorised to continue operations until 10 July 2021. But aid groups have complained that the single crossing is not sufficient, as millions of Syrians are dependent on aid for survival. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has, however, strongly suggested Moscow would veto any renewal of the crossing's mandate.

Earlier this week, Lavrov said Turkey was not essential for the delivery of aid into Syria, saying deliveries were possible across conflict lines within the country.

Wednesday's statement, signed by the Syrian Civil Defence - also known as the White Helmets - the Syrian American Medical Society, the Syrian British Council, and the Syria Relief and Molham Volunteering Team charities, among others, warned that a failure to renew the resolution "would have a catastrophic impact on the humanitarian situation".

"47,377 trucks of aid [from] five UN agencies have been delivered since April 2014 under this resolution, making it a vital lifeline for those in need," the statement said.

One million at risk of starvation

An estimated 4.2 million people live in rebel-held northwestern Syria, with more than two million of them displaced from other parts of the country, and aid groups have previously warned that more than one million of them were at risk of starvation.

Wednesday's statement noted that 75 percent of the people living in the rebel-held area were dependent on humanitarian aid arriving through the Turkish border.

The Syrian NGOs noted that, throughout the ten years of the Syrian conflict, regime forces had laid siege to rebel-held areas and blocked aid deliveries, preventing vital medical and humanitarian relief from reaching those in need.

The statement follows an open letter from a coalition of international aid agencies earlier this week, which also called on the UN to continue allowing access into Syria in order to allow aid to enter the country to rebel-held areas.

"Without cross-border access, we predict that one million people dependent on food baskets delivered by [the World Food Programme] will be left without food assistance by September 2021," that letter said.

International NGOs have previously issued warnings regarding the potentially catastrophic effects of an end to cross-border aid, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has also expressed support for the continuation of deliveries after 10 July.

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