Tomorrow (27 July), the Security Council will receive a briefing on Syria from Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Virginia Gamba. The Swedish presidency conceived the idea of addressing this topic in the context of this month’s Syria humanitarian briefing to have a more concrete discussion on an issue that is often tackled by the Council thematically. The briefing follows the 9 July open debate on children and armed conflict, chaired by Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, and the unanimous adoption of resolution 2427 that same day. (For more information on that meeting and the negotiation of the resolution, please refer to our story here.)
Gamba is expected to address the impact of the current conflict in Syria on children. The 16 May annual report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict recorded that 2017 resulted in the highest number of verified grave violations against children ever recorded in Syria (S/2018/465). According to the report, at least 1,271 children were killed or injured in Syria last year, a number that had already almost been reached during the first two months of 2018. Currently, two million Syrian children are refugees and 2.5 million are internally displaced. With 5.3 million children in need of humanitarian assistance, obstacles to access continue to prevent children from receiving essential aid and put them at greater risk of violence and exploitation (including child labour, recruitment and forced marriage).
Council members may be interested in discussing some of the conclusions of a 2017 report by Save the Children, which described the impact of war on the mental health of Syria’s children. The report identifies the impact on children throughout the country of post-traumatic stress disorder and toxic stress, which results from long-term adversity without adequate support and can lead to prolonged mental and physical harm if untreated. Despite the positive impact that mental health and psychosocial services can have in addressing this problem, the amount of humanitarian funding channelled towards it continues to be minimal.
Children are also significantly affected by the systematic attacks on schools and on education personnel, which in Syria are caused primarily by air strikes and by the use of schools for military purposes, hampering their right to education. Attacks on hospitals and medical personnel, as well as on humanitarian facilities and personnel, have a huge impact on the lives of children not only as a direct result of the attacks but also because of the increased risk of suffering and dying from preventable causes and vaccine-preventable diseases.
At the briefing, Lowcock is expected to present the monthly report of the Secretary-General on the humanitarian situation in Syria, which was circulated on 20 July (S/2018/724). He is likely to highlight the humanitarian impact of the military offensive in the south-west, which was supposed to be a de-escalation zone agreed by Jordan, Russia and the US in July 2017. This offensive has displaced more than 300,000 civilians, the most at any one time since the beginning of the conflict in March 2011. Despite the UN’s request that Jordan open its border to allow for the escape of some 60,000 civilians displaced to the south by the military offensive, the border has remained closed. Yesterday, a series of suicide attacks by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant claimed more than 200 deaths in Sweida.
The situation in the governorate of Idlib in north-west Syria will most likely be addressed in the meeting. Idlib, which remains under the control of armed groups and hosts hundreds of thousands of civilians displaced by the conflict, continues to be the target of Russian and Syrian airstrikes. The UN has repeatedly warned about the terrible humanitarian impact that escalation in Idlib could have.
Lowcock will also likely highlight the challenges to gaining humanitarian access. The lack of safe, unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access has been an ongoing factor in the conflict. While cross-line deliveries have been scarce, largely as a result of the lack of support from the government, cross-border deliveries have been hampered by the military operations in the south-west, and access has also been limited in areas recently taken over by the government. Council members may be interested in asking Lowcock his assessment of the impact of the non-issuance of visas by the Syrian government on the delivery of humanitarian assistance and what they could do to address this issue.
As pressure to facilitate the return of Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries mounts, Lowcock may want to emphasise that while refugees always have a right to return, this has to be voluntary, sustainable, and under safe and dignified conditions. UNHCR has highlighted that returns of refugees and internally displaced persons should not be pressured, rushed or premature, but based on a free and informed choice.