New York, 8 February 2018
The humanitarian situation in Syria has become increasingly stark and desperate even in the few days since my Deputy briefed you last week.
Across the country, in particular in parts of Idleb, Hama, and eastern Ghouta, increased fighting along with a continuing and almost complete lack of access for humanitarian organisations is rendering life virtually impossible for millions of Syrians.
In Idleb and northern rural Hama Governorates, reports of the destruction of civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, schools and markets fill our e-mail boxes and tv screens on a daily basis.
Since mid-December, more than 300,000 civilians in Idleb have been forced to flee their homes. Many of them are escaping bombing, shelling and shooting not for the first time, or the second, or the third – but for the fourth time in as many years. Countless children know no other life than fleeing the men with bombs and guns. The camps in which these terrified and traumatised people seek refuge are overstretched and unable to cope – and are themselves attacked, as happened on Monday this week in Atma near the Syria-Turkey border.
Airstrikes were also reported this week in Idleb city, Heesh, Kafr Nobol and Saraqeb, resulting in civilian death and injury and damage to schools. We believe more than 1,200 schools in Idleb are closed due to the hostilities, robbing hundreds of thousands of students of their education.
We are getting credible and verified reports of attacks on hospitals and other medical facilities in Syria virtually every day this year.
In Idleb alone we have well sourced information on nearly 30 attacks on health care facilities since December.
I could spend the rest of the time available today listing examples.
But let me just tell you about one, of an MSF hospital in the Saraqeb sub-district of Idleb, which was hit by an air strike last week. Five people were killed, others injured and the hospital was seriously damaged. This attack occurred right at the moment when the hospital was receiving injured people from another airstrike which hit Saraqeb’s main market about an hour earlier. So people injured in the market fled to the hospital, where they were bombed again. That was the second attack on that hospital in ten days. It was the fourth time in ten days that airstrikes had caused major damage to a hospital in Saraqeb.
Attacks on medical facilities violate international law. They violate the resolutions you have all voted for and signed up to in this Council. They are cowardly acts deliberately aimed at the sick, the injured, and the infirm – those people who are least able to protect themselves and who most need care and assistance. They destroy any prospect of treating or caring for the wounded and sick, now and in the future. They are intended to terrify and traumatise. And that is what they do.
And that, of course, is why you have all passed resolutions against them.
Just as alarmingly, the UN has also in recent weeks received multiple reports, from a variety of different sources, alleging that weaponised chlorine has been used in towns like Saraqeb and Douma in eastern Ghouta.
Meanwhile, in another continuation of what we have reported to you on numerous occasions, mortar shells launched in eastern Ghouta continue to land in Damascus city and its suburbs resulting in civilian deaths and injuries. We have repeatedly updated you too on the horrific conditions inside eastern Ghouta. One child in eight there – thousands upon thousands of them – suffers from acute malnutrition. Just in the last two days, repeating the pattern we have seen for months, we have received reports of bombing and shelling killing more than 60 civilians and injuring more than 300.
And what help have these people received? No UN humanitarian convoy has been authorized to access eastern Ghouta in over two months. Not a single one.
And although there were some medical evacuations in late December and early January, with 31 patients in urgent need of medical help being allowed out of eastern Ghouta, more than 700 people, most of them women and children, still need immediate medical evacuation. There have already been 22 civilian deaths among those waiting to be evacuated, as well as three deaths among those who have been evacuated.
Let me update you on what we are hearing about the position in Afrin. Military operations have reportedly resulted in civilian deaths and injuries. The movement of many civilians has been restricted due to fighting. Many who risk moving are being stopped at exit points by local authorities, preventing them from accessing safer areas. So far, nearly 2,000 people have reached surrounding villages and Aleppo city. Tens of thousands are believed to be displaced within Afrin.
In Hasakah Governorate, an agreement was finally reached on 30 January to allow some UN partners to resume humanitarian deliveries, after a month in which most UN humanitarian assistance came to a halt. This is a positive first step. But, the agreement is only for two months and covers a limited number of partners.
In Raqqa city, conditions remain unsafe for the return of displaced people. Among people trying to return home, more than 500 have been injured and more than 100 killed by unexploded ordinance since last October. Medical and other essential services are absent and access for humanitarian workers to the city remains almost impossible because the conditions are so dangerous. Demining activities need to be accelerated as a matter of urgency.
Humanitarian access to hard-to-reach and besieged locations has been catastrophic in recent months. Through December, January and thus far in February, not a single convoy of life-saving relief, food and medical supplies was authorized to any besieged area. This is the worst situation we have experienced since 2015.
Bureaucratic impediments, like the non-issuance of facilitation letters, continue to be a significant factor in these delays or non-deliveries, despite the creation of the tripartite coordination mechanism designed to address such problems.
Humanitarian relief cannot be viewed as an optional element to be occasionally provided. It must go where it is needed, when it is needed.
As the heads of all the UN agencies in Damascus said in their statement a few days ago, the humanitarian situation in Syria today is extreme.
· What we need is a sustained humanitarian pause, and we need it desperately; a cessation of violence that will last at least one month, in eastern Ghouta, in Idleb and throughout the country.
· What we need is immediate, safe, unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access to all in need, in particular to those 5.6 million Syrians in 1,244 communities in acute need – nearly half of whom live in besieged and hard-to-reach areas.
· What we need is constant care by the fighting parties to spare civilians and the infrastructure they rely on, whether it is hospitals or schools, or markets or shelters.
· What we need is to be able to evacuate and treat the sick and wounded, whomever and wherever they are: in Eastern Ghouta, in Foah, in Kefraya or elsewhere.
· What we need is for the parties to abide by their obligation to protect civilians – as this Council has repeatedly called for – despite their military and political interests.
When I completed my visit to Damascus a month ago, I listed five modest practical steps that I believed, on the basis of my discussions, could quickly be taken to allow at least a little relief to the suffering of millions of men, women and children across Syria.
There has been no progress on any of them. The suffering has got progressively worse. Day after day after day.
Thank you, Mr. President.