As COVID cases rise 1000% in Northeast Syria, IRC calls on UN Security Council to reopen critical Yaroubiya aid crossing


August 27,2020 - As COVID-19 cases rise by 1000% across northeast Syria in August, the IRC calls on the UN Security Council to urgently reopen the Yaroubiya aid crossing point to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and to ensure humanitarian and health workers have unfettered access to tens of thousands of vulnerable Syrians.


Beyond the alarming growth in reported positive cases, concerns about testing make the situation in northeast Syria doubly concerning. Latest available data for northeast Syria reveals that it is currently carrying out 522 tests per million- compared to for instance the United States and UK, which are currently doing around 200,000 tests per million - with only 13 ventilators available for the population. This is grounds for concern regarding a hidden, and far wider, spread in some of the most vulnerable parts of the country - especially amongst the civilians displaced or in humanitarian need in the northeast.


With COVID cases rising, the IRC is redoubling its call to authorize access for humanitarian actors and life-saving supplies through the Yaroubiya border crossing into northeast Syria. Closed since January, Yaroubiya represents the safest, fastest and most effective route for reaching Syrians in need in the northeast - delivering over 2 million treatment courses for illnesses like pneumonia and diabetes in 2019 alone. The IRC has already seen devastating impacts of the UN Security Council’s decision to put the Yaroubiya crossing out of use: severe disruption to services and closure of health facilities, critical shortages of medicine such as insulin, PPE, ventilators and ICU beds, millions of dollars in funding for programs lost. 75% of NGO health facilities currently lack PPE sufficient to last till the end of this year, with health responders forced to only wear PPE in the face of a confirmed COVID case - posing serious risk to responders and the response alike. Amidst supply and testing shortages, doctors and nurses have told the IRC that when patients come in with flu-like symptoms, “we can’t test them to make sure it is not COVID-19.”

Al Hol camp, the largest in northeast Syria - with a population density of 35,714 per square kilometer, over three times that of New York City - is especially badly affected. IRC clinics have seen double the number of patients this month due to increasing pressure on other facilities where there are PPE shortages or a reduction in health staff who have had to self-isolate as a precaution. Al Hol’s COVID isolation center also faces PPE shortages, insufficient handwashing stations, overcrowding of beds and limited staff capacity. Lack of access to these essential provisions in a pandemic only makes an extremely challenging situation near impossible for health responders - and unbearable for civilians already beleaguered by a decade of war. IRC clients in Al Hol camp stated, “In war, I can protect myself. I see shelling is coming, so I move to another place. You can’t protect yourself from the coronavirus. You don’t know whether the person in front of you is infected or not.”

David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, said:

“Northeast Syria has been cut off from an indispensable lifeline at a time when the global COVID-19 pandemic demands the deployment of all available resources. The IRC calls on the Security Council to urgently adopt a resolution reauthorizing the use of Yaroubiya as a critical cross-border aid delivery mechanism necessary to stop the COVID-19 pandemic from running rampant across the country. The Security Council’s double failure in removing the crossing in January, then failing to reinstate access in July amidst a global pandemic, has left millions bereft of essential medicine and health supplies in the midst of this outbreak. The closure of Bab al-Salam crossing in the northwest last month is no different, relied on by over one million people for life-saving medicine and other aid. Rising COVID cases only make the call for more, not less, access to vulnerable civilians all the more clear - and only makes the case for the Security Council to reverse its decision more urgent.”

Photos and case studies are available HERE.