Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
January 27, 2022
Thank you, Madam President. And thank you, Under-Secretary-General Griffiths, for your sobering briefing on the vast humanitarian needs in Syria. Thank you, Jan Egeland, as well, for your update and for the work of the Norwegian Refugee Council to improve the humanitarian situation in Syria and for Syrian refugees in the region. And Jan, I also want to thank you for your work on the Panel on Humanitarian Deconfliction in Syria. I know the report was just released yesterday and we look forward to studying it and its findings.
Today I would like to discuss three aspects of Syria’s humanitarian situation: the crisis this cold winter presents, expanding all modalities for getting aid and vaccines to the Syrian people, and protecting Syrian refugees.
First, as the Syrian people grapple with freezing temperatures and inclement weather, millions need basic supplies for winter – tents, blankets, coats, heating fuel. How is it that after 11 frigid winters since the beginning of the Syrian uprising, the Syrian people continue to face the same dangers from the same conflict and the same inaction? This winter is somehow even worse – exacerbated by COVID-19, the economic crisis, and the escalation in violence. Food needs are at their highest levels since the crisis began. And millions of people cannot reliably access sufficient and safe water across northern Syria. The prevalence of water-borne diseases has risen sharply.
The United States remains the single largest donor of humanitarian aid for Syria. But collectively, as a Council, we must do more to alleviate this ongoing humanitarian emergency. Everyone needs to step up their financial support to aid the estimated 4 million Syrians in need of winterization support. This Council must therefore pursue every opportunity to maximize the reach of humanitarian aid in Syria. Failing to do so would further immiserate a people who have suffered far, far too much already.
Which leads me to my second point: we support all modalities that bring aid to the Syrian people throughout the country, including both cross-line and cross-border deliveries. We are encouraged by cross-line missions conducted in northwest Syria. But these were dangerous, and they were difficult undertakings that took months to coordinate. Which is why cross-line aid is a complement, and not a substitute, for cross-border aid. Cross-line deliveries simply cannot match the scale of cross-border assistance. And we need to be honest about that reality and respect the UN’s conclusions stating as much. Dozens of reports from the Secretary-General and dozens of testimonies from humanitarian organizations have made this crystal clear. At the very least, that means recognizing that cross-border assistance is indispensable, and we must renew and expand the authorization for cross-border humanitarian access this summer.
This Council must work together to ensure not only that Bab al-Hawa stays open, but that all cross-border options are available to meet humanitarian needs. If we put politics aside, and focus exclusively on the needs of the Syrians, this simple act would get essential items, including medical supplies, to those who are in desperate need. Medical supplies are particularly important right now in Syria, which has one of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the Middle East and across the entire world. In northwest Syria, only 2.9 percent of the population was fully vaccinated as of the end of December 2021. The Security Council sent a unified message when it adopted Resolution 2565 in February 2021, which extends strong support for facilitating COVID-19 vaccine access in areas affected by armed conflict and post-conflict situations, and during complex humanitarian emergencies.
This is a complex humanitarian emergency if there ever was one. I saw it first-hand during my visit to Bab al-Hawa last year. So let us make progress on our shared goal of facilitating vaccine access, and work with UN agencies and other partners to get these vaccines across the border.
Third and finally, I would like to reiterate our deep appreciation to all states that are hosting Syrian refugees, particularly Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt. These countries are strengthening regional and global stability by providing protection to those who are currently unable to return safely to their homeland. Let us be clear: forcing or coercing Syrian refugees to return to Syria would endanger their lives and subject them to possible torture, arbitrary detention, and death. It is simply inhumane to force Syrians to return home right now. Any and all returns must be safe, they must be voluntary, informed, and dignified.
The humanitarian situation in Syria is a threat to international peace and security. It should animate this Council to pursue political solutions to this conflict. And in the meantime, we must do everything – everything – in our power to ameliorate this humanitarian suffering and ground our actions in the needs of the Syrian people.
Thank you, Madam President.