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Near Verbatim Transcript - Opening remarks by UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura - Stakeout by UN Senior Adviser, Jan Egeland

12 May 2016

SdeM: Good morning everybody. We have just terminated a long but intense and useful meeting from the Humanitarian taskforce, so I will leave the floor actually to my colleague and friend, Jan Egeland.

The only thing I wanted you to know is that please do not ask any questions regarding the political aspect because as you know we are all waiting and attending the Vienna ISSG Ministerial meeting. So after that we will be able to elaborate a little bit further. I know that you may have a curiosity, and rightly so, to find out what will be happening afterwards and during the ISSG but we ourselves are going to evaluate everything on the basis of the ISSG, where most of the subjects will be taken on, including of course the humanitarian aspect.

So I will leave you with our colleague, thank you so much.

Question (inaudible)

SdeM: The cessation of hostilities issue, which as you know is a crucial point which has an impact on also the humanitarian access is also going to be frankly one of the main subjects of the Vienna meeting. Please read carefully the Russian-American, American-Russian public statement and you will see how each of these three elements are crucial and starting with the humanitarian one. I will stop here for this moment. Thank you.

Jan Egeland: The first one-third of May has been frankly disappointing in terms of humanitarian access. We had highest ambition level so far for reach into both besieged areas and hard- to-reach areas. Of 905,000 people that we hoped to reach this month, still more than half of these we have no permission to go. That includes all of the locations in Aleppo area where people are bleeding, where people are in great need and where we would like to go with our assistance.
We were only been able to reach from the 18 besieged areas, Yarmouk, through UNRWA’s good work, and Deir ez-Zor through the continuous air drops from World Food Programme.

The next few days could change this and we do sense an intense diplomatic pressure now on the parties on the ground from the members of the ISSG. Today as you will have seen from the social media, we do have the first humanitarian assessment mission on its way to Darayya. Darayya is probably the place in Syria today where the greatest unmet needs caused by besiegement exist. That assessment mission has all of the humanitarian experts needed to carefully say what we have to do to reach all the people in need. It will also undertake vaccination of all of the children and there is also some additional medical supplies and even through the Syrian Red Crescent some baby milk that the women, mothers in Darayya requested.

Similar assessment missions or assistance missions are planned in the coming days to all of the remaining besieged areas we haven’t reached. Duma, east Harasta, where we now have green light to go, Erbin, Zamalka and Zabadin, where we also have green light to go for the first time. In all of these areas there has been endless problems and obstacles. In the next ten-day period, all of these could be covered.

Now we are in the paradoxical situation that we might be able to cover many of the original besieged areas better than some of the so-called hard-to-reach areas, that are on the brink of becoming de-facto besieged. The Al Wa’er area, where there are tens of thousands of people in a very desperate situation, it is close to Homs, it seems to meet the criteria of the besiegement. There are three criteria: full military encirclement, no humanitarian access, and no movement for the civilian population, in or out of the area. Al-Waer is one of these places where heart-breaking things happen when we have a convoy fully loaded standing for days as it did last week, with supplies we know that there is a desperate need for and then in the end you are told no you have to unload. It happened on 8th of May, last week.

It is not just the government which is creating problems. We had an assessment mission which was planning to go to the two besieged areas Foua and Kafraya, besieged by armed groups. The mission was not allowed in. A number of excuses were made, regarding security and what not. Well, this area where we sent a number of convoys but where we were not allowed the proper UN assessment, in Foua and Kafraya. We need to do it.

Mine action assessment had been undertaken for the first time, within Syria. It has been a sensitive issue. We had not been allowed to do mine clearance. That will now be allowed, we think, and will be welcomed news for the people who are returning to some areas that have relative calm and who will return to areas littered by unexploded ordnances and mines.
So the next days will be crucial. We take heart in the Russian-US statement which says that we will be granted access to all of the besieged areas and all of the medical supplies that are unloaded will be granted. That is what the Russians and the Americans said in their statement last week and that is what we expect to be ratified in Vienna next week.


Q. Have you made any progress on the detainee issue?

JE: The issue of the very concerning situation of the Hama prison came up. A number of countries intervened, ISSG members, and I think it helped avert the kind of massacre that could have happened. You would know that some of the prisoners took some guards and there was a full military encirclement of the prison. We have not dealt specifically with the detainee issue in the humanitarian taskforce as such. The office of the Special Envoy is going to work more and more on that issue.

Q. Two questions please: the question I tried to ask Mr.de Mistura but I think he slightly misunderstood what I was trying to ask. The ceasefire or the calm or cessation of hostilities, whatever you call it, will be helpful to get an understanding from your point of view on how that looks in the last week compared to the previous week. Has there been any improvement? And the second question, is about the assessment missions, you said that there is one going in today to Darayya and you were greenlighted to other besieged areas in the next few days. How confident are you in that this assessment will translate into actual delivery of aid where needed?

JE. The assessment mission is certainly the first step. I become a little hopeful now that our assessment mission were able to go into Darayya, which was an area where the government actually claimed there were only terrorists inside Darayya. We have since been able to visit on the political mission that saw hundreds of children, hundreds of women, thousands of civilians all altogether. The assessment mission will be documenting that. It will be very hard then to say: no, we will not send any humanitarian supplies into the town. So it is the first step but there is no guarantee. I will give you one example for how bad it is, Moadameyah is a town where we did a number of deliveries in February, and again early March and we haven’t been able to do anything there since. So Moadameyah may become a terrible place if we are not allowed to replenish. There are no guarantees in this bitter and terrible war, for anything that seems as regards civilians yet.
The breakdown of the cessation of hostilities was a catastrophe for humanitarian work. March was the month where very few people were displaced, and where very few relief workers were attacked and bombed etc. April was terrible for humanitarian work. Colleagues were killed in many places and the medical colleagues were more hard-hit than anybody else. Of late, it seems some places have become calmer, other places have become hotter. It is changing all the time and it is very, very difficult for us to plan anything for the coming days.

Q. You mentioned that there was intense pressure on parties to allow, I assume Russia and the United States. Could you elaborate on that, and who is exercising this intense pressure and what are they doing?

JE. Those who are considered active on our behalf are the co-chairs, Russia and the United States. We have daily contact with them. They work with their respective sides that they have contacts with, quite intensively. But it is at times surprising what they are not able to deliver as well. They delivered much but in other respects they might not have. Iran we asked help with Hezbollah and the government. Saudi Arabia, Europeans, Gulf countries, Turkey with armed opposition groups, and yes they do help. They make contacts with the government, contact with the government officials, they go military to military, or they also go to the armed opposition groups. I am surprised actually that the countries with the armed opposition groups were not able to secure access into Foua and Kafraya for example which shows that they also have problems on that side. But they are trying to help us.

Follow up question (inaudible)

JE. I wish we had this level of support in the black months of 2014 and 2015, which was really even worse than 2016. We had very little sustained support by the powers who had an influence in Syria. At times we felt that many were more eager to help their respective sides with military victories than to help us reach civilians in the cross fire. It has changed this year. We have to admit that, there is a lot of diplomats and a lot of effort. Now it is more difficult than it was when this was small war though, and now there are more compound actors, perhaps also less unity of command in many places, perhaps also more difficult but they are helping us.

Q. How confident are you about these assessment missions that they are going to reach all the besieged areas within these coming ten days and also you mentioned other hard to reach areas that are increasingly besieged. Are you planning on increasing the number of the defined besieged areas?

JE: Well it was a breakthrough, a small breakthrough in a very disappointing rate for May. For example east Harasta, which has been routinely rejected even in each and every week since the Munich meeting in February, that east Harasta was suddenly green lighted. So we will go there both with deliveries and assessment mission. We will have a full assessment mission to Duma. Duma is also symbolic like Darayya, where we were routinely rejected to go. The assessment mission would again be a first step towards full delivery. Arbin, Zabadin, Zamalka, three places where we got conditional access but only to much fewer people than the actual number in those places. So the UN, humanitarian partners know how many roughly people there are in a place. If the government says that they think there is only one quarter of that, we cannot deliver to only a quarter of the people. It is an insult to the people and it’s dangerous to the people who deliver. Now we have agreement on the number of beneficiaries, now we argue the route to the place. So, I am quite hopeful that we will make progress in reaching the originally besieged areas. I am actually now more worried for some of the other areas like al-Waer and Aleppo and so on where we were not allowed access at all as we speak.
Thank you very much.

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