Tomorrow (27 July), Ursula Mueller, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, will brief the Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria via video teleconference from Jordan. Mueller is expected to highlight the continuing difficulties in addressing humanitarian challenges in Syria, with some 13.5 million civilians in need of humanitarian assistance. Although violence has subsided in parts of Syria, attacks have continued, including in some areas which are theoretically within the de-escalation zones, such as eastern Ghouta. (The boundaries of some of these zones have not yet been delineated.)
Mueller, who is visiting the region, will most likely highlight the efforts of host countries in addressing the needs of the 5 million refugees who have fled Syria since 2011. She is also expected to remind member states of their obligations under international refugee law, particularly regarding the right for all Syrians to seek asylum and enjoy refugee protection until conditions are conducive for voluntary return in safety and in dignity.
Mueller will probably focus on the ongoing difficulties with humanitarian access, especially to besieged and hard-to-reach areas. Despite the drop in violence in some areas of the country, humanitarian convoys continue to be delayed and blocked by bureaucratic restrictions that limit their ability to get to civilians living in besieged and hard-to-reach areas. In the past, OCHA has stressed that the Syrian government imposes the most egregious restrictions, while other groups operating in areas not controlled by the government also implement procedures that impinge upon humanitarian operations and principles.
In June, only three inter-agency cross-line operations reached their objectives (one besieged area and two hard-to-reach locations), and so far none have reached besieged areas in July. Of the convoys that went through in June, the Syrian government, according to the 21 July report of the Secretary-General, removed medical items sufficient for over 84,000 treatments (S/2017/623). Council members might be interested in hearing how member states with influence over the parties can step up efforts to ensure that they guarantee humanitarian access to besieged and hard-to-reach areas.
The situation in Idlib is also expected to feature in the discussions tomorrow. After months of increasing tension and direct clashes between Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) —Al-Nusra Front’s latest iteration—and Ahrar al-Sham, HTS took control of the northern city of Idlib last week. Council members might be interested in hearing Mueller’s assessment of the humanitarian situation there, particularly given HTS’ control of one of the border crossings (Bab al-Hawa) authorised by the Council in resolution 2165 in July 2014 to ensure the delivery of cross-border humanitarian aid. Three years after the adoption of resolution 2165, Mueller may further underscore the vital role that cross-border operations have played in addressing the humanitarian situation in Syria.
Mueller is also expected to discuss the humanitarian situation in Rukban, near the north-east Jordan-Syria border, where tens of thousands of internally displaced persons are in a dire humanitarian situation exacerbated by extreme temperatures and a volatile security environment.
Another important issue that is expected to be discussed tomorrow is the humanitarian impact of counter-terrorism operations. According to the report of the Secretary-General, the number of people displaced across north-east Syria due to the counter-terrorism operations near Raqqa conducted both by the US-led coalition and its partners and separately by pro-government forces, has grown in June alone to almost 20,000, many of whom were displaced more than once. (It is estimated that 190,081 persons have been internally displaced since 1 April.) Some Council members might encourage those involved in this offensive to enhance efforts to ensure compliance with international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians. Equally, some Council members might stress that stabilisation efforts in areas recovered from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) should prioritise the protection of civilians and not undermine the agenda for a political process.
Some Council members might take this opportunity to ask the countries involved in the negotiation and monitoring of the de-escalation areas to provide an update on efforts to delineate them, their monitoring mechanisms, and efforts to ensure that humanitarian access increases. According to the Secretary-General’s recent report, the creation of the de-escalation areas has so far not resulted in a sustained increase in humanitarian access.
Finally, Mueller is expected to reiterate the need for a political solution to the crisis in order to end the suffering of the civilian population, a point frequently emphasised in the monthly humanitarian briefings to the Council.