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Transcript of joint stakeout by UN Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. Staffan de Mistura, and UN Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mr. Stephen O’Brien, following the Humanitarian Access Task Force

9 September 2016

Geneva, 9 August 2016

SdeM: Good afternoon. Let me warmly welcome Stephen O’Brien, who is very well known to all of you, as you know he is the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and is our UN Emergency Relief Coordinator and is in fact representing the neutral, independent UN humanitarian actions in Syria and will take advantage, definitely, of this opportunity for being able to also address in a very comprehensive way issues regarding humanitarian actions in Syria. Stephen O’Brien was with us during the whole HTF.

Before doing so, let me focus for a moment on the political aspect. You know that the two co-chairs at the senior level, both the US and Russia, Sergey Lavrov on the Russian Federation side and John Kerry on the US side, are meeting and are constantly meeting. We are all hoping for positive conclusions, let’s be frank, the discussions are addressing complex, delicate, difficult issues and they have just been resuming again, about 25 minutes ago, but if they do succeed, and the UN has been actively involved in supporting those discussions, and hopefully also in supporting their conclusions, those conclusions could make a major difference on the renewal or the relaunching of the cessation of hostilities, which in turn unavoidably, would have a major impact on humanitarian access, and in turn would be having a positive impact on the way the political process could be relaunched. So these meetings today are important and we should be waiting for that outcome to be heard today.

So I give the floor now to you Stephen, for whatever you feel is important to say, including what we discussed today at the HTF. Thank you.

SROB: I am very pleased to have this opportunity to be here in Geneva and be able to take part in the HTF meeting and I am deeply grateful to you, Staffan, for your hosting and the facilitation of that. In terms of the Syria crisis, a man-made humanitarian crisis, we have to now see our way forward to try and to meet the needs, the incredibly large-scale, deep, long-term needs of human suffering brought about by the continuing conflict circumstances. It was very clear that as the demands of humanitarians, under the humanitarian principles of impartiality, independence, and neutrality, we discuss how the UN, and its implementing humanitarian partners are ready to be able to deliver for the people who have life-saving, life-supporting and protection needs and continue to suffer under the current circumstances.

So the readiness of the UN was affirmed, the detailed plans are in place, with just the usual short-term notice of getting a green light, and then the reality of having trucks getting loaded, and making sure that the truck drivers feel safe enough to be able to get into their cabs and drive along secure routes to deliver to the people in need was affirmed, and a very important point, as we approach the solemn religious holidays of Eid, that the readiness was not affected by that and of course some adjustments will have to be made but that we would make sure that the readiness was equally in place as the Eid holidays and certain arrangements are made for people to be able to make their proper celebration of that period.

What is also clear from the HTF meeting, with all those engaged, and from all the briefings, it was absolutely clear that the needs of the people in Syria, wherever these needs arise, however they arise, whoever it affects, on whichever side of any line, or none at all, have become even more severe, not only over the five years, but actually even in the last three weeks, and therefore the hope and wish for a comprehensive approach to the fight in Syria that would enable us to have the total humanitarian access was the paramount and necessary conditions that we need to get access.

But also to recognize that in eastern Aleppo the current situation remains extremely severe, to the point of it being de facto besiegement, so much so that we need to make sure that we continue to demand - whatever the circumstances of the larger discussions - we need to make sure that we continue to press for and to demand a 48-hour weekly humanitarian pause to reach the people in need by whichever route can be secured for those very brave and courageous aid workers, both from within the UN and our implementing humanitarian partners to reach the people in need.

As a result of the HTF this morning, I was able to look at these issues in some detail and I was strongly encouraged by not only the continuing level of commitment to meet humanitarian needs, but also the readiness to do so if the circumstances permit.

Q. I have two questions, one for Mr. O’Brien and the other for Mr. de Mistura. Mr. O’Brien, if we can have just an idea about the impact of the suspension of the 73 NGOs yesterday in Syria to work with the UN. And my question for Mr. de Mistura, we see these last hours another evacuation from the Moadameya, for the civilians. I would like to have your opinion about the second series of evacuation. Thank you.

SROB: Thank you for the question. I came to know about this letter yesterday. Of course, these are from extremely important partners in the response that we are all able together, with our common objective, to meet humanitarian needs. Any concerns that are raised we take very seriously, with respect, but on the actual issues of what is contained in the letter, it is clear that there is a question about the planning and the assessment process for 2017 and that we will continue to be working together for the implementation of humanitarian effect and taking the actions necessary to meet those needs. There will be, and there continues to be, a strong reaching out to our very important implementing partners both by myself and indeed throughout the UN humanitarian team. We will continue to have those discussions and I am sure that above all, between us, there will be no impact on meeting the needs of those who are suffering through no fault of their own. And we will be able to make sure our discussions are fruitful in generating the extra level of confidence necessary to meet the frustrations, if there are any, which have been articulated

SdeM. On Moadameya did touch this aspect during the current HTF. We were in touch with our colleagues in the field, and I would be, at this stage, making very little comment, because we are still watching and seeing what is actually happening. But what we understand is that the people who appear to be evacuating are in fact not from Moadameya but they are the people from Darayya who ended up in Moadameya temporarily. So for having a picture about Moadameya, I would still wait for a moment, with your permission.

Q. Two questions addressed to both of you. I would like to know if you have the intention to meet the two co-chairs, Mr. Lavrov and Mr. Kerry, not only of course for the political side but we know that the humanitarian side is linked, so this is my question, if you are going to meet them today?

SdeM. The priority is for the two co-chairs to come up with an agreed position, that is where we will like them, and we are hoping, that they will use all of their time. Then we meet them regularly and we have been meeting as you know, I met yesterday late, for more than an hour, Sergey Lavrov, and we are always available to help.

Q. Mr. O’Brien, I was wondering if you have any views on the way forward for the opening of the route that is blocking supplies into Aleppo. Thank you.

SROB: Thank you very much. I think you are referring to the Castello road which is obviously one that has been argued for as being the preferable route to get into Eastern Aleppo, there is also the Suleiman Al-Halabi crossing which is another one. The latter is shorter, if you are looking at things like fuel costs that would be preferable. But what matters is to actually look at what can gain the confidence of all the various parties because in the end access, which is our primary objective, access is depending upon where we can go safely, and so whichever of those routes is possible to negotiate safely - and partly linked to the previous question of your sister French-speaking channel, it is clear, (inaudible), that the message of this is absolutely at the forefront of the minds, whether it is at the senior-most levels of the discussions, or at a more technical level, but the humanitarian imperative is unquestionably at the forefront of everybody’s minds because of the dire level of needs and the urgency with which we need to be able to secure safe routes.

Q. Mr. de Mistura I would like to ask you what did you talk about with Mr. Lavrov last night, and what was the feeling that you got that make you say that you are looking forward to a positive outcome today, and also what are the other preparations you have been doing as momentum seems to be picking up, are you talking to the opposition groups? The High Negotiations Committee and the Syrian government? Thank you.

SdeM: I am not in a position at this stage to elaborate on what was discussed yesterday. What I can say, however, is that we did touch on the subject of humanitarian access, and we did discuss indeed what would be the role the UN could/should be playing, if as we all hope there is a deal taking place today on the discussions between the two co-chairs, but I would not go into further details.

Regarding the rest, we are in constant touch with everyone, that is exactly our job, so I have been in touch with the opposition, my colleagues are, and all different entities which are involved in the Syrian context. And as you know at the General Assembly there will be a further opportunity of meeting all the countries who are actually involved or can have an influence on it. That's our job.

Q. My question is primarily for Mr. O’Brien. We know that August was very difficult for delivering aid anywhere in Syria. How things have been going in September so far? Anything at all?

SROB: Thank you for the question, you're absolute right, not just August, but actually July was also extremely disappointing, when you compare what was delivered to the agreed plan with the Government of Syria, and then as you know once we have an agreed plan however it may be partially agreed compared to what we submitted as the UN. In September what matters, just as it does in the previous months since we have to convert the plans through facilitation letters and it is at that point that you can then load the trucks and set off on your path. Now for September, the agreement to the partial acceptance of the plans as put forward by the Government of Syria, that was received a week later than we would have liked; but once it was received, it does contain the partial agreement which are very important for us to be able to make the progress but that now means that we need to get the facilitation letters in place: this is a combination of whether or not the circumstances of the particular populations and routes are troubled by continuing security concerns, or whether it is an administrative procedure and a burden that we need to overcome. We are making continuing supplies into Hasakeh, into the commercial area by the air bridge that is continuing. But the answer to your question, we are the 9th of September and the supplies under the September plan have not yet started other than that. I wanted to put that in a proper context, which is why it is a slightly longer answer than I would have liked, but we have an even greater urgency and need to get those facilitation letters and the security in place so we can get the deliveries made. We need to do a lot better in September than was ever achieved either in August or July.

SdeM: I can add one more point, if I may. We did hear from our field colleagues their genuine concern about eastern Aleppo, because among all places which have been of course isolated, there has been one or two now not reached for more than 180 days, there is a growing concern for eastern Aleppo. The issue about food, the issue about the possibility that within perhaps the next few days it will turn out to be dark because there is no fuel, problems of water. Everywhere is important, but eastern Aleppo is becoming an urgent issue even more than before.

Q. A similar question, I want to ask a bit more about how the humanitarian access to besieged areas was going, I get the sense that you are not delivering aid anywhere, you are [inaudible] in all kinds of bureaucratic administrative stuff right now, so are any convoys moving to any of the besieged areas? Are medical evacuations not going on as far as you know? Are people dying in some of these areas because you cannot get the aid or cannot move them out of their areas? I think you wanted to reach about a million people this month, how far away are you from that goal? Is that totally unrealistic?

SdeM: I will just jump in one second to qualify one point, when you are referring to bureaucratic aspects, I don't think you are fair on that, but it is part of the question. All our difficulties at the moment are related to one single word: war, increase in fighting, militarization of the conflict.

SROB: The straight answer to your question which I think I just made clear is that the convoys are not going, are not rolling at the moment in Syria, other than there is an air bridge, but we did get confirmation of evacuations yesterday, medical evacuations, from Foah and Madaya, 11 from Foah and I think it was 15 from Madaya. They are related to a meningitis outbreak. And we are now looking to get a date and to get an agreement as to how we pursue the further deliveries and evacuations under the 4-Towns agreements, but hopefully that can be put into a broader context as we move forward. That is why I make an absolute plea, that we both have a cessation of the fighting, that the guns fall silent, because that is the best form of access that is what is going to engage the confidence of all those who very bravely, as I referred to earlier from the UN and our implementing partners, including NGOs, who are very bravely seeking to make the journey to reach the people in need, but until we have the necessary assurances of that safety, which includes of course working with the Government and indeed other parties to the current conflict, it is absolutely vital that we push as hard as we can in order to deliver in September what has been agreed that we should deliver. But no, at the moment there is very little rolling.