Displaced Syrians rally against ending cross-border aid

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In this March 12, 2020 photo, women walk in a neighborhood heavily damaged by airstrikes in Idlib, Syria. (Photo: Felipe Dana/AP)
In this March 12, 2020 photo, women walk in a neighborhood heavily damaged by airstrikes in Idlib, Syria. (Photo: Felipe Dana/AP)

Dozens of displaced people in rebel-held northwest Syria on Tuesday protested efforts by Damascus and its allies to end humanitarian aid crossing from Turkey into the impoverished war-ravaged enclave.

The United Nations Security Council mandate for humanitarian aid deliveries, now reduced from four initial international crossing points to a single border crossing from Turkey to Syria’s rebel-held northwest, expires July 10.

Veto-wielding Russia, Damascus’ close ally, has been pressing for the border crossing's closure. Moscow insists the Syrian government should control all assistance going into the country — even to areas outside its control.

The last border crossing, Bab al-Hawa, has become a lifeline and the main point from which international aid is brought into the northwest, home to over 4 million people, most of them displaced.

The protesters in the Alteh displaced persons camp, north of Idlib city, held up signs calling the crossing a “lifeline.” “The crossing is my path to health,” another read.

“These borders are giving us everything from medical supplies to food and medicines and everything we need,” said Abdelsalam al-Youssif, who heads the camp. “If this decision goes ahead, then the world will be responsible for killing and displacing us.”

The United States is seeking the reauthorization of UN access to Bab al-Hawa and the reopening of other border crossings before the mandate for humanitarian aid deliveries expires. There is strong support in the 15-member council for maintaining and even adding border crossings.

The United Nations and international aid groups have called on Russia to not veto the extension.

“Bab al-Hawa is the last lifeline preventing a humanitarian catastrophe for millions of people in Syria,” Stephane Dujarric, the spokesperson for the UN secretary-general, said Monday. “Despite ongoing efforts to deliver a small number of trucks cross-line from Damascus, there remains no alternative to delivering aid at this scale and with this scope. 

Dujarric said some of Syria’s most vulnerable are in the northwest, where 3.4 million are in need, including the displaced who live in over 1,000 camps and informal settlements along the Turkish-Syrian border.

Around 1,000 trucks cross the border each month with crucial aid. This is why the secretary-general has said a large-scale cross-border response for an additional 12 months remains essential to save lives, Dujarric said.

Mohammed al-Jarrak, a protestor in Alteh camp, warned of a famine. “If we are cut off, there will be a famine. A massive famine that will benefit the [Syrian'] regime,” he said.