Geneva, 30 June 2016
30 June 2016
Good afternoon to all, we just finished the meeting of the Humanitarian Taskforce of the ISSG and a milestone in that regard was reached in Syria last night, because areas number 17 and 18 out of the 18 besieged areas on the UN list was reached.
Arbin and Zamalka hadn’t been reached since November 2012.
The convoy that came to the two places was 37 trucks, a big convoy, and it was an interagency effort of United Nations agencies, the Syrian Red Crescent and ICRC. On its way out there was a sniper attack at the convoy. One of the drivers from the Syrian Red Crescent was shot through the chest. He is now thankfully under good care in a hospital in Damascus, but it was a very close call, and it shows how risky this work is because there is no cessation of hostilities in too many places now in Syria. So it is in many ways against all odds that we have been able to reach all of the 18 areas at least once and at least with partial assistance.
We are acutely aware that only 60 percent of the [besieged] people have really gotten help. In places like Daraya, Douma and Al-Waer it is only partial delivery, and in those places it’s only once also so far. There is a tremendous, also, worry now that the place where we started by seeing people starving to death, Madaya, may be one of the places where starvation may come back, because we haven’t been able to reach the four towns – Madaya and Zabadani, close to Damascus and Foua and Kefraya, up in the north, in Idleb. This is part of an agreement that is not holding anymore. It was negotiated without the involvement of the UN, and the lack of the cessation of hostilities, the bombing and the shelling are holding back an agreement for delivery of supplies and assistance, which is also holding back a planned [UN] assessment mission for the first time to Foua and Kefraya.
We are also – although we are happy to have reached all of the areas - very much aware that medical services is probably the area where we also failed that much. The reason for the biggest suffering and the greatest loss of life has probably been that there is not a supply of medical personnel, there is not a supply of medical items and material support, and there is no system for medical evacuations.
At the meeting today we also reviewed cross-border assistance. Most of the hard-to-reach areas of Syria – those areas where we have only been able to do sporadic assistance- it’s an area with 5.5 million people [including all those besieged] and it was upgraded in terms of number of people affected. There are more people in hard-to-reach areas now than when we started [the taskforce]. Most of these people can be reached within an hour, 90 minutes, by truck from the neighbouring countries. It is therefore good to see that so far this year, there have been more than 500 UN interagency trucks going cross-border with assistance every month, as compared to just over 100 a month in 2014.
The non-governmental organizations efforts were also discussed today and it’s [inaudible]. Non-governmental organizations, Syrian, local groups, Syrian diaspora groups, international non-governmental organizations, are doing tremendous work and lost many colleagues while doing their work. Most of these work cross-border.
Q. MSF sent a press release asking for help for those stuck at the border with northern Jordan. Can you explain to us something about the situation of all these people? Thank you.
JE. There are indeed tens of thousands of people stranded in the desert on the Syrian side of the border of Syria and Jordan. This was an area where there was a horrific terror attack only some days ago and that led to that border being closed. We are working hard to see that humanitarian supplies can take place cross-border to the people in the so-called berm area, because they are in a very desperate situation, I agree with MSF in their description of the situation, and we hope and believe that cross-border humanitarian assistance can again be made available, taking note of Jordan’s very legitimate security needs.
Q. I’d like to talk about Qamishli, where I understand, the air bridge has not yet begun. Can you explain what the rationale is behind an air bridge to Qamishli, particularly because they are commercial flights that occur in that city regularly from Damascus, why is the UN doing it? Does that not play in the concerns of some groups that the UN is doing the bidding for the Syrian government?
JE. Al Hasakeh is actually now declared a hard-to-reach area, that’s one of the reasons why we have so many more in hard-to-reach areas, and one of the main reasons for that again is that the border crossing - Nuseybin-Qamishli - from Turkey to this area has been closed because of ongoing security operations. The best way of reaching the area is an air bridge that World Food Programme can undertake from Damascus to Qamishli, and we hope to get it going soon, as I think we still need landing permits and so on for that. Why they are not using commercial flights, I do not know.
Q. You say it’s a hard-to-reach area but if there are commercial flights then what is the definition of a hard-to-reach area if a commercial flight can reach there? And secondly, you mentioned cross-border, but Qamishli is not too far from the border, why is there not a way of access to Qamishli?
JE. Definition of hard-to-reach is whether you can supply anywhere near what is needed to an area that is now having land access problems of great magnitude. It’s not enough that you and I can fly to the place, they need hundreds of trucks to be able to provide for the hundreds of thousands of people in the area. Land access is it, really. So it is a second best to try to deliver by air, and we need then large quantities to deliver by air. So the definition of such an area is that you cannot reach it in the normal fashion which is by land. Interestingly, we’ve done air drops now, and 62 of them to Deir Ez-Zor, over three months or so, equal to one larger convoy we’ve had in recent weeks to the besieged areas where we have been able to reach by land. One convoy equals up to three months of air drops.
Q. For weeks, months, or even longer, the Syrian Government has imposed a rule in terms of medical supplies, something that says that if you can provide something that is produced in Syria, you must produce locally made stuff, you can’t use imported stuff instead. It seems to me to be a slightly odd idea that that is a useful condition to impose on medical supplies in a war zone. Is that correct and is that having any interference with your delivery of medical equipment? Thanks.
JE. There are many rules in many countries that are not very rational from a humanitarian point of view and that may well be one of them. The main problem however, that medical services and medical relief is really the worst catastrophe in this endless line of failing to provide for people in their greatest hour of need, is that the parties to this conflict, including the Government of Syria, have not been willing to follow International Law in terms of providing doctors, nurses, medical organizations, with all of the permits to serve the civilian population. The logic seems to be that the doctor of my enemy is my enemy, and anything that can get a wounded soldier or fighter back to the battlefield has to be prevented. The consequences of the policy is that civilians, mothers, children, die in these areas, and wounded children bleed to death. So one of the things we would need to focus on now in the humanitarian taskforce is to do something about this attitude. It’s often also there on the other side. The doctor of my enemy is my friend because he is only following International Law.