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Transcript of joint Stakeout by UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura And UN Senior Adviser, Jan Egeland

1 December 2016

Geneva, 1 December 2016


SdeM: Good afternoon. Jan has a plane to take so I will be very quick, I may stay once he leaves, if there is a need but will try to limit the questions to him as soon as possible.

Let me then go quickly along some points. Point number one, as far as we are concerned and you know it very well, this is a very fast evolving period with substantive changes taking place on the ground, especially in Aleppo.

I myself was in Damascus, Tehran, Ankara, and we’ve been constantly in touch with both the Russian Federation and US representatives, I am on my way now to Rome for a meeting where will be present quite a few of stakeholders which are linked to what is happening in Syria. Then moving to New York, to brief the Secretary-General, and the Secretary-General elect, and to the Security Council on the 8th of December, and Washington.

Yesterday at the Security Council, you are aware what was happening, it was mostly focused on Aleppo. I am not going now to elaborate therefore how the current developments on the ground, which are taking place, can be factored into a political process, since, as you will imagine, I have to consult Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and indeed the Security Council.

So let me make some bottom lines regarding the eastern Aleppo issue, and Jan Egeland will be elaborating further.

One main point you will hear much more from Jan, is: there is a figure, a figure which you need to take into account, and that we were confronted with. Today, in west Aleppo, there are 400,000 IDPs, 400,000 IDPs, can you imagine. These are over the time, this is not the last week, this is the people who have been moving into west Aleppo due to the conflict, and they are been looking for places to live. The last few days, there has been another number of people and Jan will be elaborating on that, around 30,000 but the number is going higher.

In light of what has been happening, the UN and its partners are ready and increasing their presence, while we are talking, with a substantive team, and also actually moving into Aleppo and their presence in my opinion, our opinion, is urgently needed in order to increase the assistance, but also in order to deter possible mishandling of people who have been actually moving across.

UN is still asking for a pause, and you will hear about that, in order to reach civilians and evacuate them medically. And in this context, the most urgent thing that we are going to ask for at the moment, is actually shelter, winter and places for displaced to be, winter is coming.

Now I renew, in this connection, our request to Al-Nusra to leave eastern Aleppo on a safe passage. This will contribute avoiding bloodshed and increase our leverage on insisting on an urgent pause.

I will stop there, give the floor to Jan Egeland, and then of course questions.

JE: Thank you very much Staffan. We presented figures to the members of this task force, of the International Syria Support Group, that were not good. In the whole month of November, which was a crucial month to preposition supplies to the most affected victims of this war, as winter is coming, we only reached 8 per cent of the people in the besieged areas in November. The one glimmer of positive news was that we reached all of the Four Towns, under the Four-Towns Agreement, including Madaya, Foah and Kafraya, and Zabadani, where needs were enormous.

What do people tell us when they come out after having been able in the middle of the night, of reaching a place like Madaya, is that the desperation has never been at that level, people are exhausted, they are malnourished, they are really without hope. I feel strong sense of responsibility here, we failed these people who are now besieged.

The December plan has not yet been approved by the government. So on the 1st of December if we don't have an approval of the plan to deliver in the month, it means that we lose a big part of the month. And at the end of this month things will slow down because of the bureaucracy and so we will not be so active.

So our message to these countries who can influence all of the parties on the ground including the government was: now is the time that the foreign ministers, their heads of government, start making messages to the parties in Syria, including the government.

We reviewed the vaccination campaign this year. UNICEF and WHO has done a herculean effort to reach 2 million children. Three times we tried, first one, 80 per cent of all of the children were reached, against all odds. Second time, only 25 per cent and now the last round, which is still ongoing, only about 16-17 per cent. It is an indication that the war, the parties, the horrors are preventing our humanitarian work. And those who are suffering the most are the most vulnerable, the children. Epidemic disease will be just around the corner if we cannot do these vaccinations.

Aleppo was discussed in detail. Of the 27,000-30,000 people who have come, who have shifted from being on the opposition-controlled in the besieged east Aleppo and are now in government-controlled areas, or the Kurdish areas, we are reaching them. The UN agencies, the Red Cross/Red Crescent are reaching these people, we are scaling up, we are strengthening our presence in west Aleppo as we speak.

Those we are not reaching are the people still in besieged eastern Aleppo. We had hoped to get the message that the Russian Federation and the government of Syria will allow a pause in the fighting for us to access east Aleppo and evacuate the people out, we did not get it. However, the Russian Federation announced that there are four humanitarian corridors and that they want to sit down now in Aleppo with our people there to discuss how we can use the four corridors to evacuate people out, especially we have at least 400 wounded that need immediate medical evacuation. But also to use these corridors to get medical supplies and food in.

Operations are now happening in basements without anesthesia. Imagine having your child rushed to an unsanitary basement and then being operated upon without anesthesia. These are the conditions today in east Aleppo.

We hope to be able to remedy that and we are starting today to discuss the opportunity that the corridors might bring.

Maybe final concern: protection. There are no more vulnerable people probably on earth than the civilian population in Aleppo and they are extremely vulnerable for possible actions by the armed opposition groups as they try to leave and by all of the groups that will meet them as they leave. They are many concerns, our appeal was to all members of the task force: hold the men with arms and power back, these people need protection. Thank you.

Q. You talked about the humanitarian corridors for weeks and weeks on end, isn’t it the case that there can be useable once those fighting on the ground feel it is ok for you, for conditions to let you in, and second, can you clarify how many people you said have fled, because we have one person here saying 30,000 and one 20,000.

JE: The number of people who have fled, according to what has been registered and these are figures from yesterday, some 18,000 we have registered in the government-controlled areas, who came from east Aleppo; it could be higher today, plus some 8,500 in the Kurdish-controlled Sheikh Maqsood area. So that would make 27,000 or so all together. It could be slightly higher.

On the corridors, I mean, really, a humanitarian corridor can work if all the armed actors respect it. If now the Russians say these are four corridors we will make sure that these corridors the Russian government side will respect them as being safe, we now feel confident that the armed opposition groups will do the same. Earlier we have not been able to do what, we had hoped for east Aleppo and we had issues on both sides, now I think it’s dawned upon all sides the urgency of the situation. I am hopeful that we can get things done here but we are still working for a pause in the fighting that is our primary objective.

Q. There have been images of a Russian soldier one or maybe others handing out aid in eastern Aleppo in some parts of the area, if I have seen this correctly, Russian officials have been saying that they have been sending in aid to the areas to the areas that have been recaptured. Had the United Nations had any role in getting aid to these people in eastern Aleppo, and if not, what could the United Nations do more, for example, is the United Nations willing to work directly with Russia to make sure that this aid gets in? and could you just clarify also did you say that more UN people are moving into Aleppo now, I didn't quite understand what you said, and does that include east Aleppo?

SdeM: First of all, the answer is yes, while we are talking, we are strengthening, upgrading our international and national presence in western Aleppo. Now is the time for the UN to do what we have always been asking to do in western Aleppo of course. From there we hope to be able also to make a difference in eastern Aleppo. That's why we are asking for a pause. That's point one.

JE: We are impartial, neutral, independent humanitarians, we work with our own operations, but in complete coordination with all of the actors on the ground, we are able to reach all of those we can access in the government controlled areas, and the government controls large areas now, and also in the Kurdish area. What we need there is more adequate shelter. The 400,000 internally displaced in western Aleppo are now joined by tens of thousands and more, is our estimation. And we need a winter program for them. We went to some of the areas that have been retaken, liberated, had fallen, these are two sides calling them different things, some of these areas were empty of people because of the fighting.

SdeM: Bottom line, if you had to ask what is the most urgent need now from the UN is shelter assistance, because the winter is there and there are 400,000 people, including those who were already there in a rather uncomfortable situation, plus the 27,000-30,000 who have just moved but more are likely to move.

Q. Votre proposition pour Alep Est, sortir les combattants de Al-Nusra. Quelles sont les divergences entre votre proposition et celle de Monsieur Muallem que vous rencontré la semaine derniere à Damas. Quel est le point de vue de Damas concernant cette proposition. Une petite deuxième question, il y a eu une déclaration hier de la part du président Turque, comme quoi la présence militaire Turque en Syrie c’est pour finir avec la présence du régime d’Assad. Si vous avez un commentaire la-dessus.

SdeM : Sur le dernier point je n’ai aucun commentaire. Je pense que c’est au Président turc de faire ses commentaires et aux Turcs de commenter sur ce que le Président a dit. Vous savez très bien ce que Monsieur Muallem a dit concernant ma proposition, mais, je répète, aujourd’hui c’est encore plus urgent de rappeler a Nusra que leur évacuation volontaire ailleurs pourrait énormément aider la réduction de la violence qui peut encore avenir dans le reste de la ville d’Alep et ils le savent et il faut leur rappeler cela.

Q: What information do you have, what concerns do you have, what assurances do you about the screening, especially men and boys, who are coming out of eastern Aleppo? What can you tell us? There is obviously a lot of stuff on social media, pictures of people who have been massacred, I mean, what do you know?

SdeM: We do have a concern and therefore that is a concern that remains but that is one of the reasons why the upgrading and the increased presence of international UN officials in Aleppo, in my opinion, will increase the opportunity also for deterring or verifying this.

Q: You said you’ve asked for pause, Mr. Lavrov in Turkey today said that the operation to take east Aleppo would continue and Mr. Churkin in New York last night said that the UN had been lured into political action protecting terrorists. So, do you have anything to indicate that there is a sympathetic ear for your appeal for a pause?

SdeM: Well first of all, as you know very well, we will continue and it is our job, to constantly scan for a good moment for relaunching a political process, but it is in front of your eyes that there is a lot happening that needs to be factored in and secondly, I need to consult the Secretary-General and the Secretary-General-elect about what could be the next moves on a political process.

Regarding the fact that there is a need for combining humanitarian aid while we are searching for a political process so that by that time we will have a political solution, which is unavoidable, although today, the only thing that we see is the military activity, we would like and hope that there will be more Syrians alive in Aleppo by the time this takes place that's why the priority is humanitarian access at the moment.

JE: I will just add one thing that I forgot to say. In west Aleppo, which would be an half an hour and one hour away with trucks, we have food for 150,000 people that we could bring to east Aleppo, very easily, and we have all the medical equipment, medicines, etc., that they need in east Aleppo. It is prepositioned, we have people there, we basically need the access and we are sitting down now to discuss it with Russia and with the Government of Syria.

Thank you.​

Office of the Special Envoy for Syria
Geneva

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