As four million Syrians living outside of government controlled areas are in need of humanitarian aid, this year’s UN General Assembly resolution on the situation of human rights in Syria takes the unprecedented step of urging the UN Security Council to reauthorize two border crossings closed in the last year that are absolutely essential to aid provision in the region. 

The Yarubiyah crossing in northeast Syria was a vital lifeline and is even more necessary now with confirmed COVID-19 cases having risen by over 180% through October and the latest available figures currently standing at 4,738. However, given the low testing capacity in the region, these figures likely do not give an accurate representation of the true spread of the disease - health actors operating in northeast Syria believe that the true numbers are 10 to 15 times greater than official figures suggest. The closure of the crossing has resulted in the shuttering of medical facilities and shortages of health supplies - there are still just 13 ventilators in northeast Syria and only 59 ICU beds. At least 105 people have died, although it is believed that deaths are being significantly under-reported. 

The Bab al Salam crossing in the northwest was the most direct way to reach those in need among the 1.3 million people living in northern Aleppo - around 800,000 of whom are internally displaced. Since the closure of this crossing point in July - on the very day that the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in the region - supplies have had to be re-routed through Bab al Hawa, adding unnecessary delays and challenges, and hampering the response to the pandemic in the area, where over 40% of all COVID-19 cases in northwest Syria have been confirmed. In both northeast and northwest Syria, crossline deliveries are not a viable alternative to fill the gaps that have been left by the removal of these border crossings from the resolution. The General Assembly resolution rightly calls on the Security Council to re-open these crossing points. 

David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, said: “Russia and China used their vetoes multiple times this year to reduce cross border aid flowing into Syria at a time when COVID-19 demands greater humanitarian access not less. UN member states now have a critical opportunity through this General Assembly resolution to send a strong symbolic signal that playing politics with people’s lives is unacceptable. We have already seen the impact of the closures of the Bab al Salam and Yarubiyah crossing points. The International Rescue Committee urges the 193 member states of the General Assembly to stand in solidarity with Syrian civilians and vote to support the resolution.”