Ambassador Kelly Craft
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
May 19, 2020
Thank you, Sven.
The United States remains deeply concerned about the spread of COVID-19 in Syria. This Council knows full well that the virus is worsening the existing humanitarian crisis, and that the country’s already fragile health system, continuing displacement, high population density, and low levels of sanitation heighten the risk of a severe outbreak. Left unaddressed, an exacerbation of COVID-19 in Syria could threaten stability throughout the entire region.
Since the closing of two of the four UN crossing points into Syria under Resolution 2504, we have been listening closely to humanitarians on the ground. And what we have heard is that the Council’s decision to reduce the number of crossings has sharply limited the ability of the UN and other international humanitarian organizations to supply essential aid to those who need it the most. The Syrian people are suffering because of this Council’s actions – or more accurately, because of our inability to act, due to the obstruction of just a few members.
In northeast Syria, delivery of lifesaving medical items – including those required for the COVID-19 response – has been significantly impeded by the closing of the Yaroubia crossing. As noted in the Secretary-General’s latest report, medical infrastructure is weak: not a single district in the region meets the minimum standard of 18 hospital beds per 100,000 people. Medical facilities are reporting acute shortages. And so-called “cross-line” aid deliveries have not come close to filling the gap left by the closing of the Yaroubia crossing point.
In recent days, we have heard concerning reports that when the Yaroubia crossing was closed, the UN was strictly limited in how it could fund the delivery of humanitarian aid to northeast Syria. Specifically, press reports indicate that Assad forced the UN to fund only those private charities approved by the regime to operate in the region. We know this will be another way the Regime removes impartial humanitarian aid from reaching the most vulnerable. We cannot allow the Assad regime to continue weaponizing aid and depriving the Syrian people of lifesaving food, water, and medicine.
The urgent humanitarian and health crisis in Syria can only be alleviated by both delivering cross-border humanitarian aid and successfully pressing the Assad regime to deliver cross-line assistance from Damascus. We note that the World Health Organization just completed its first road delivery of cross-line aid into northeast Syria in two years. Let me repeat that: the first road delivery of cross-line aid in two years.
Now, some Council members claim that the regime will allow for more cross-line aid to compensate for the loss of Yaroubia. But evidence to support this claim is practically non-existent. The regime takes months to respond to UN cross-line delivery requests, and denies the majority of them. In fact, we have seen this before. For years, the regime has weaponized access to food and medicine in its brutal sieges of areas not under its control. Indeed, these are not the actions of a regime trying to provide for suffering people. These are the actions of a tyrant who is intent on prolonging suffering. We cannot depend on the regime for the delivery of aid.
For those reasons, the Trump Administration renews our call for this Council to undertake immediate action to increase cross-border aid into Syria, to include reauthorizing use of the Yaroubia crossing point. We call on the Russian Federation to put politics aside and allow the temporary authorization of cross-border aid to the northeast to save the lives of Syrians from the emerging COVID-19 threat.
And we call on the People’s Republic of China to validate its claims of global leadership in combating COVID-19. You have read the UN and NGO reports, and the numbers are clear: cross-line aid to the northeast does not and will not suffice. Demonstrate your global leadership in front of this Council by lending your support for a resolution to allow the UN to combat this pandemic by delivering life-saving aid to cross-border to the northeast.
We have an obligation to the people of Syria to ensure they receive the assistance they need to survive. This is beyond politics. This is beyond posturing for the press. This is about saving lives. So, let’s step it up – as a united Council – and do just that.