UN struggles to deliver humanitarian aid in Syria

2017-07-28 12:33
US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighters prepare for battle against ISIS in Raqqa. (Hussein Malla, AP File)

US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighters prepare for battle against ISIS in Raqqa. (Hussein Malla, AP File)

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Amman - The UN has delivered aid to only a few hard-to-reach areas in Syria and not a single besieged location this month, a senior UN humanitarian official said on Thursday.

Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Ursula Mueller told the UN Security Council in a video briefing from Amman, Jordan that there have been no UN aid convoys to besieged areas in July and just one a week to hard-to-reach areas, meaning just over 120 000 people got help this month.

Mueller blamed the Syrian government, armed groups, insecurity and fighting.

Other UN partners delivered aid to some hard-to-reach areas. The UN says 540 000 people in 11 locations are still under siege, mostly by Assad's forces.

Mueller said the UN continues to see a reduction in violence in some areas since Russia and Iran, both supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and Turkey, which backs rebels fighting Syrian government forces, agreed on a plan in May to establish four "de-escalation" zones in Syria.

But "despite reductions in violence, we have not been able to noticeably increase our reach", she said.

In a letter to the Security Council, ambassadors from 12 Western and Arab nations and the European Union who attend weekly meetings in Geneva on humanitarian aid to Syria said they remain "extremely concerned" that the United Nations is being excluded from sending convoys to besieged and hard-to-reach areas.

"This trend has worsened significantly in recent months," said the letter, obtained by The Associated Press.

"Only two UN supported convoys have been able to access territory besieged by the Syrian authorities since April."

Britain's UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told reporters: "We're not asking for humanitarian access as a favour. We're asking for it because it's a legal and moral obligation. It's an obligation under successive Security Council resolutions."

Over 200 000 have fled Raqqa since April 1 

Mueller said that over 200 000 civilians have fled their homes in Syria around ISIS' de facto capital of Raqqa since April 1, including over 30 000 displaced just this month as US-backed Syrian fighters try to oust the group.

Mueller told the UN that "an estimated 20 000 to 50 000 people remain inside Raqqa city, which is now encircled, and their situation is perilous - there is no way for them to get out."

For those displaced in Raqqa province, she said humanitarian conditions are very difficult with temperatures now approaching 50°C. The United Nations also has serious concerns over their protection, particularly over their freedom of movement outside the camps many now live in, she said.

Leaving the city of Raqqa remains "extremely difficult due to the presence of mines and other unexploded ordnance, as well as shelling, sniper activities and airstrikes", Mueller said.

US-backed Syrian fighters have captured almost half of Raqqa from ISIS, but the push into the northern city has slowed due to the large amounts of explosives planted by the armed group.

Mueller said the UN and its partners are ready to support people from Raqqa as soon as security allows it and they can gain access.

"The health situation, particularly the low availability of trauma care services, is a major concern in view of the intense fighting and shifting front lines," she said.

"We continue to engage with relevant parties and actors on the ground ... but a lot more needs to be done."

Read more on:    un  |  syria  |  syria conflict

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