By Mehmet Burak Karacaoglu and Ahmet Karaahmet
IDLIB, Syria (AA) – A total of 81 local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) carrying out aid work in Syria issued a joint statement Wednesday rejecting Russia's intention to block aid to the country, which is in the midst of a civil war.
NGOs operating in Syria issued a joint press release opposing the closure of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing between Turkey and Syria, the last lifeline for more than 4 million Syrians where humanitarian aid transits.
The UN had issued statements to member countries on the humanitarian situation in the region, said Khalid al-Fajir, head of the Human Aid Society, speaking at the camp where civilians displaced by force took refuge.
"Closing this door will lead to 4.5 million civilians, mostly children and women, being deprived of incoming aid," Fajir said, noting that the goal of all NGOs taking part in the statement is to emphasize that Bab al-Hawa, which reaches millions of people, should not be closed.
"Some countries are putting in efforts against this decision," he said, underlining that there is no alternative route if the Bab al-Hawa border crossing is closed to humanitarian aid.
“Any decision against humanitarian aid will lead to a disaster in the region," he emphasized.
"We call on the member states of the UN Security Council to fulfill their commitments on the neutrality of humanitarian aid and to renew the Security Council resolution.
“We also want to point out that it is unacceptable that we have to emphasize the importance of the cross-border assistance mechanism every year. The UN's authority for cross-border humanitarian access must be protected," said the statement by the 81 aid associations.
– UN humanitarian aid to Syria
Humanitarian aid has reached millions since 2014 through a mechanism authorized by UN Security Council resolutions that allow international aid to Syria.
In particular, people who have taken refuge in Idlib in northwestern Syria after being forcibly displaced rely on this aid.
By 2020, international humanitarian aid such as food, medicine, medical and hygiene supplies were sent through four border crossings, two of which were from Turkey.
The number of border crossings was first reduced to two upon Russia's veto and objections. Later, Russia only authorized Bab al-Hawa to be kept open for another year.
More than 1,000 humanitarian trucks cross the Bab al-Hawa border crossing into Syria every month, but the mechanism that keeps this border crossing open expires in July.
The UN Security Council needs to renew the mechanism so that the border crossing remains open and aid can continue.
The UN, international aid agencies, Turkey, the US and other Western countries want to increase the number of border crossings where aid will be sent.
But China, which has sided with Russia in the UN Security Council decisions on Syria, does not look favorably on keeping the Cilvegozu border crossing in Turkey's southern Hatay province open.
As before, Russia defended the argument that humanitarian aid should be provided from regime-controlled areas inside Syria, shortly before the expiration of the cross-border aid mechanism.
The only border crossing where more than 1,000 international humanitarian aid convoys are sent to Syria each month will be closed to aid crossings if Russia objects.
The US and Western countries in the UN also want the Bab al-Salam border crossing across from the Oncupinar Border Crossing and the Al-Yarubiyah border crossing between Iraq and Syria, which was closed in December 2019, to be reopened.
Syria has been ravaged by a civil war since early 2011, when the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protesters.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and more than 10 million displaced, according to UN estimates.
Idlib falls within a de-escalation zone forged under an agreement between Turkey and Russia. The area has been the subject of multiple cease-fire understandings which have frequently been violated by the Assad regime and its allies.
*Writing by Merve Berker