Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
June 23, 2021
Thank you, Mr. President. And thank you, Secretary-General Guterres, for your briefing, and thank you for joining us today. I also wish to thank Mr. Rajasingham and Ms. Ibrahim for your briefings as well.
Colleagues, Mr. President, today the Security Council is being confronted with a critical decision: what we communicate to millions of Syrians about the dire situation they are in and whether we plan to continue to provide crucial humanitarian aid cross-border. Three weeks ago, I traveled to the Turkish-Syrian border and I visited Bab al-Hawa. There, I met with UN frontline workers, NGOs, and refugees who shared devastating stories about what they’ve faced after a decade of conflict. I went because I wanted the Syrian people to know that they are not forgotten. And I went because I wanted to see – with my own eyes – how the cross-border mechanism works so that I could speak firsthand about it.
We all agree that after ten years of war, Syria is among the world’s worst humanitarian disasters. COVID has only made the situation worse. And as I’ve shared with you earlier, when I spoke to one humanitarian worker who told me that for Syrian refugees COVID was “another reason to die.” For millions of Syrians, Bab al-Hawa is a literal lifeline. As we have heard, every month, one thousand trucks carry food, nutritional assistance, clean water, and medical supplies to people living in desperate need. The Syrian refugees and courageous UN humanitarian workers I met with on the border warned me – over and over – that without cross-border access, thousands of children will be denied food and be permanently stunted in their growth and cognitive development. Others will die because of health facilities will no longer have supplies. Millions of people will have reduced access to clean water, medical supplies, and, of course, vaccines.
They are terrified that is the choice this Council will make. Tragically, their fears are not unfounded because that’s exactly what this Council has done to them before. As we all know, there used to be four crossings for humanitarian aid into Syria. Now, there is just one. The last closures constricted aid at precisely the moment that COVID exacerbated humanitarian needs on the ground. When Yaroubiyah closed, hospitals and NGOs were cut off from supplies. It took months for medical supplies to be re-routed. By the time they reached people in need nearly a year later, medicines and vaccines had expired, and medical kits had been ransacked of their contents along the way. The NGOs I spoke with told me that anything less than a 12-month renewal of Bab al-Hawa would, once again, upend their operations outright.
We also benefit from robust UN monitoring that you’ve heard about today. The rigor and professionalism I saw at the border-crossing is the same gold-standard I’ve seen from the UN throughout my four decades evaluating humanitarian missions as a U.S. diplomat. At Bab al-Hawa, I saw firsthand how the teams confirmed the contents of the boxes and sealed up the trucks. I saw how they have four points of verifications: the border, the warehouse in Syria, the distribution center, and after distribution to beneficiaries. We need to strengthen as well as expand this operation. We are committed to maximizing humanitarian relief to the Syrian people, which is why we support renewing and expanding this mandate with all modalities of assistance – and to do so with urgency.
Syria’s economic woes are the result of the Assad regime’s gross corruption and mismanagement of the Syrian economy. With respect to crossline aid, it can be part of the equation – but it is completely insufficient to meet the needs of millions of desperate people inside of Syria today.
Now, we have made clear we are willing to work with our partners to expand all forms of assistance to Syrians in need – cross-border, as well as cross-line. We are open to it. Others are as well. But hard truth is, right now, this is a hypothetical solution with more than a few practical limitations. And ultimately, it’s not our choice to make here today.
Here’s our choice: Do we ensure our humanitarian aid continues to be monitored from start to finish? Do we follow through with our commitment to end the COVID-19 pandemic? Do we help Syrians in desperate need? Without cross-border access, more Syrians will die – and we know that. Frontline UN workers know it. NGOs know it. Assad knows it. Syrian refugees and internally displaced people know it, as well. Everybody knows this. That’s why this Council has a duty to reauthorize Bab al-Hawa, as well as Bab al-Salam and Yaroubiya. It doesn’t take much: a technical rollover for twelve months and three crossings. We should do it now, and not leave mothers and fathers wondering if they will be able to feed their children on July 11.
Our mandate in the Security Council is to maintain peace and security. We will undermine that mandate and the credibility of this body if we are responsible for cutting off millions of people from food, water, medical assistance they need to survive. Ladies and gentlemen, we have an obligation to extend the mandate. Colleagues, we must vote for renewal.
Thank you, Mr. President.