The UN Security Council (UNSC) must renew authorization of the UN cross-border mechanism before it expires on 10 July and do so for at least one year to ensure a sustainable humanitarian relief operation, Amnesty International said today. The mechanism is the sole route that allows UN aid to be delivered from Türkiye to north-west Syria and is a lifeline for the four million people who depend on it to access food, water, housing, and health services.
Aid workers told Amnesty International that the end of the UN cross-border mechanism would have a devastating impact on civilians who are already facing severe difficulties in accessing essential services, compounded by the earthquakes that struck the region in February.
“Russia’s cynical politicization of the cross-border mechanism has narrowed the temporal and geographic scope of the resolution to allow the use of only a single border crossing since 2020, undermining the delivery of life-saving aid at a time when the impact of the recent earthquakes on civilians has been catastrophic,” said Aya Majzoub, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
UN Security Council members must reject the politicization of humanitarian aid, focus on the critical humanitarian needs on the ground, and expedite the renewal of the mechanism for a period of at least 12 months to ensure that the aid operation is not disrupted.Aya Majzoub, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa
“UN Security Council members must reject the politicization of humanitarian aid, focus on the critical humanitarian needs on the ground, and expedite the renewal of the mechanism for a period of at least 12 months to ensure that the aid operation is not disrupted, and civilians have access to life-saving relief. Should the Security Council fail to renew the cross-border mechanism by 10 July, the General Assembly should affirm the necessity of providing humanitarian aid across the border, which is lawful even without a Security Council resolution or Syrian government consent.”
After armed opposition groups took control of north-west Syria in 2014, the Syrian government cut off the supply of all essential services to the area. As a result, there are at least four million people who depend on UN aid for survival, including 2.8 internally displaced people living mainly in tents with no access to essential services.
In June 2023, Amnesty International interviewed six civilians living in north-west Syria who had lost their homes following the earthquakes and nine aid workers, including four who regularly visit the area. The organization also reviewed reports published by UN aid agencies about the humanitarian relief operation in north-west Syria.
According to the UN, the earthquakes led to the displacement of 265,000 individuals in north-west Syria and worsened the plight of an already vulnerable population living in overcrowded camps. Humanitarian workers told Amnesty International that the rise in the number of displaced people necessitated the establishment of new camps, which lack access to essential services. They also said that the lack of adequate shelters and damage to water infrastructure has led to a surge in water-borne diseases.
‘It is unbearable’
A displaced widow told Amnesty International that she had to live in a tent with her three children after her home collapsed in the earthquakes, which also killed her mother. She said: “I lived in the tent for around two months and then my cousin told me to live with her. I feel like a burden because it is not only me but with my three kids; I don’t have any income. Before the earthquakes, my uncle who lives with his family in Türkiye used to send us money, but they all died in the earthquakes.”
I lived in the tent for around two months and then my cousin told me to live with her. I feel like a burden because it is not only me but I don’t have any income. Before the earthquakes, my uncle used to send us money but they all died in the earthquakes.Displaced mother of three in northwest Syria
A man who was displaced by the earthquakes and currently resides in a tent within a camp that accommodates around 200 families, told Amnesty International: “We lack everything from food, clothes, electricity, shelter, clean water, everything. It is unbearable to live in a tent in this heat. We received aid in the first two months, then nothing.”
It is unbearable to live in a tent in this heat. We received aid in the first two months, then nothing.Displaced man in north-west Syria
In 2022, the UN took steps to improve living conditions in the camp by replacing makeshift tents with shelters, which ensure safe and dignified living conditions. Aid workers told Amnesty International that the UN cross-border resolution is essential for the continued provision of dignified shelters because only the UN, rather than local and/or international humanitarian organizations, are able to procure such shelters.
Six months is entirely inadequate
In January 2023, the UNSC extended the Bab al-Hawa border crossing for six months, but aid workers told Amnesty International that given the scale of the devastation, six months was not even enough time for them to conduct a needs assessment, analyze it, coordinate with local authorities, submit proposals, and get approval for funding and then start implementation. The aid workers not only deliver life-saving aid but also run projects that facilitate access to essential services and the improvement of living conditions for civilians, especially those living in camps, such as setting up schools, dignified shelters, and water and sanitation infrastructure, as well as equipping hospitals and medical centres.
An aid worker told Amnesty International: “By the time we start implementing a project after finishing with the planning phase, the cross-border mechanism is back up for renewal negotiations.”
Another aid worker said: “Most of the projects need more than 12 months. For example, we concluded the first phase of a project we got funding for from the UN and it took six months and now we have to wait for the renewal to get funding for the second phase. If the renewal doesn’t happen, then the project stops halfway, and all would be waste of efforts and resources.”
Aid workers also emphasized the irreplaceable nature of the UN’s cross-border aid, highlighting its crucial role in coordinating the humanitarian relief operation and procuring essential supplies. Failure to renew the resolution would result in the loss of UN funding to the cross-border humanitarian relief operation in north-west Syria, including for various programmes run by local and international aid organizations.
An aid worker said: “Cross-border [aid] is not only about trucks crossing from south Türkiye to north-west Syria. It is much more than that. We are delivering on long-term projects that improve people’s lives and this is all happening under the cross-border mechanism. So, a non-renewal will not only end life-saving aid but also these projects because we don’t have [an] alternative system to that of the cross-border operation…”
Cross-border [aid] is not only about trucks crossing from south Türkiye to north-west Syria… We are delivering on long-term projects that improve people’s lives… So, a non-renewal will not only end life-saving aid but also these projects because we don’t have [an] alternative …Aid worker in north-west Syria
Both the Russian government and the Syrian government claim that the UN should only deliver aid channelled through Damascus to opposition-controlled areas, known as cross-line aid. The UN and other international and local organizations, however, have said that cross-line aid cannot match the volume of aid that can be delivered through the cross-border mechanism. So far in 2023, only one cross-line aid convoy has made it to north-west Syria.
According to Amnesty International’s legal analysis, delivery of impartial humanitarian aid to civilians in urgent need across the Syrian border without UN Security Council authorization or the consent of the Syrian government is legal under international law. This is because no other alternatives exist, and the UN cross-border relief operations are essential to prevent the suffering of the civilian population and grave human rights violations in north-west Syria.