UN delegation at the Bab al-Hawa, Syria–Turkey border crossing located in northwest Syria, 14 Feb 2023.
UN delegation at the Bab al-Hawa, Syria–Turkey border crossing located in northwest Syria, 14 Feb 2023. © Ali Haj Suleiman

Syrian Activists Condemn “Failure” of UN Aid Efforts

Fears that Damascus regime had politicised delivery of humanitarian relief to areas outside its control.

Thursday, 16 February, 2023

Activists in north western Syria have expressed their frustration at what they described as a UN “failure” to deliver sufficient aid to earthquake victims in opposition-controlled areas of the country.

The February 6 disaster caused huge loss of life and widespread damage to infrastructure in parts of Syria and Turkey. The Bab al-Hawa border checkpoint with Turkey, north of Idlib governorate, was the only crossing open to facilitate humanitarian aid for more than a week until Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's regime finally allowed two additional crossings to open between Turkey and northwest Syria.

On February 14, a high-level UN delegation crossed via Bab al-Hawa into areas controlled by the Syrian opposition. The group, headed by deputy regional coordinator for humanitarian affairs David Cardin, met activists and representatives of medical and relief organisations in the city of Sarmada.

"We expressed to the UN delegation our refusal of the Syrian regime's exploitation of the tragedy of the earthquake victims and how the regime is taking advantage of the disaster to benefit from it and obtain more UN aid,” Mohamed al-Daher, a media activist in Idlib, told IWPR. “All parties must respect humanitarian principles and not politicise the humanitarian [situation] in the liberated north of Syria in a way that serves to support the criminal Syrian regime."

Al-Daher stressed that activists at the meeting rejected the idea of delivering UN aid via the Assad government, or even waiting for regime approval to bring aid into areas outside its direct control.

He continued, "The delegation was urged to make efforts to respond to those affected by the earthquake in a manner commensurate with the scale of the disaster and to contribute by providing what secures a decent life for them, and to give priority to transparency and humanitarian principles."

The UN mission, which included representatives from the WHO, WFP and UNICEF, travelled from the Idlib countryside to the northern Aleppo region on Thursday for meetings with the head of the Syrian interim government and several regional ministers and local council heads.

Abd Alghani Shobak, head of the Free Aleppo Governorate Council, told IWPR that the UN mission had offered their condolences to those affected by the earthquake and expressed regret at the delay in entering the heavily affected northwestern region of Syria.

However, Shobak said that this delay had led to the loss of many lives.

"The UN failed tremendously in its role to reach the affected and afflicted people in northwestern Syria," he continued. “There is a great failure for which the UN bears responsibility before the Syrian people, and this can only be tolerated through the UN proving that it works for human beings and provides services impartially without discrimination and with maximum speed and rapid response.”

"We assured the UN delegation that Bashar al-Assad's regime worked to exploit the catastrophe that befell the Syrian people,” he continued. “Although the northwestern region of Syria, which is outside its control, is the most affected by the earthquake, we saw UN and international aid reaching the airports of Damascus and Aleppo [instead].”

Immediately following the earthquake, officials at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey had announced that they were ready to receive international assistance coming into northwestern Syria.

Mazen Alloush, media and relations officer at Bab al-Hawa crossing, told IWPR that aid convoys awaiting Turkish approval started to enter the Syrian side on the fourth day following the earthquake.

"As of Wednesday evening, February 15, the number of trucks carrying aid from the UN that entered from Bab al-Hawa reached 106 trucks," he said.

The Syrian Civil Defence announced that the death toll in northwestern Syria had reached nearly 2,300 deaths, in addition to more than 12,400 injuries, while the UN has reported around double that number of fatalities. The number of victims is expected to increase as search and rescue operations continue in the affected areas.

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