2.4 million people in northwest Syria risk being cut off from life-saving assistance should the UN-led cross-border mechanism fail to be renewed in January 2023
800,000 people in the affected area are currently living in tents or makeshift shelters, which will likely need to withstand gale force winds, sub-zero temperatures, and possible flash flooding in the upcoming winter months
The IRC calls on the UNSC to renew and extend the UN-led cross-border aid mechanism for at least 12 months to avoid an increase in preventable deaths
New York, NY, December 22, 2022 — On January 10, 2023, the renewal of a UN-led cross-border mechanism, which is relied upon by 2.4 million Syrians every month, is essential as harsh winter conditions are starting, warns the IRC. Bab Al-Hawa is the last remaining humanitarian cross-border channel for UN humanitarian aid from Turkiye to Syria and serves the northwest of the country, where there are an estimated 4 million people in need of humanitarian support. The cross-border mechanism is up for renewal early next month at the UN Security Council.
This renewal comes at an incredibly critical time with the onset of winter which will bring freezing temperatures, heavy rain and snowfall, exacerbating already difficult living conditions for vulnerable communities, 800,000 of whom are living in makeshift tents and poor housing conditions.
Tanya Evans, Syria Country Director for IRC says:
“Every winter, we witness extreme weather conditions, such as snowstorms and sub-zero temperatures driven by climate change, which overwhelms the communities we work with. This year, the humanitarian situation is worse than ever, even before winter has set in. Fuel and food prices are skyrocketing, making them unaffordable for the majority of people. At the same time, funding for humanitarian actors is shrinking. Stretched resources, combined with winter, a cholera outbreak and an economic crisis will be a deadly mix should the only lifeline left to this part of Syria be closed.”
Chronic fuel shortages, high inflation and economic crisis have left poverty-stricken families without any alternatives this winter, especially those living in camps or informal sites, who have even less access to heating, electricity or clean water.
Fathiyeh*, a 45-year-old displaced Syrian in northwest Syria and a mother of five, told us:
“My house is on the ground floor and is not healthy, it doesn’t have any windows nor a balcony so the sun doesn’t enter. My husband brings us cardboard from the shop he works in and we burn them to warm ourselves. We do not have enough food because of the economy. We rely heavily on aid coming from Turkiye. We cannot get bread, we cannot afford meat, chicken, vegetables, and there is no clean water.”
The first outbreak of cholera in over a decade is further threatening the lives of at-risk populations in country. Placing even more strain on an already overwhelmed health system for the 63 hospitals, 170 primary health centers, 42 specialized care centers and 45 mobile clinics currently providing health services across the northwest of Syria, the UN’s cross-border mechanism is quite simply a life-line. Renewal is essential for maintaining vital services such as health care, to be able to provide not only basic care, but respond to emergencies such as the current cholera outbreak.
Sara*, a midwife working in northwest Syria, when asked about the closure of Bab Al-Hawa told us:
“Its impact will be destructive. I see my patients and tell myself that I was put here to help them. It [the cross-border mechanism] ensures that medications and food can get to people in dire need. It is already hard to see people we can not help or support. And now we should also think about what would happen if this crossing closes. How are people supposed to access health care? It is going to be a slow death for people. When an aircraft attacks and kills people, we know there is nothing we can do to stop it, but the closure of Bab Al-Hawa will be a crime we are all responsible for.”
The IRC is calling on the UN Security Council to put people’s needs above politics and reauthorize the cross-border mechanism for 12 months to ensure lives are not needlessly lost.
Notes to editors
- We have spokespeople in the region available to do interviews.
- We have case studies of IRC clients speaking on the situation and the impact of the non-renewal of the cross-border resolution for free distribution and use.
- Further consequences of non-renewal will include significant disruption to life-saving health services. These include the treatment for chronic diseases, like diabetes and hypertension, mental health and psychosocial support services, treatment of malnutrition for children, and sexual and reproductive healthcare for women and girls.
- Ranked at number six in IRC’s Emergency Watch List 2023 - a list that spotlights the 20 countries most at risk of worsening humanitarian need for the coming year, Syria continues to face an economic crisis that is driving up food prices, as well as poverty.
- The IRC has been working in Syria since 2012, responding to needs in northwest and northeast Syria. The IRC promotes economic recovery with job training, apprenticeships and small business support. Our teams support early childhood development and provide counseling and protection services for women and children, particularly for survivors of violence. We support health facilities and mobile health teams with critical trauma services and primary, reproductive and mental health services. Our cholera response includes provision of essential supplies for cholera prevention, control and treatment; training of clinical staff and community health workers on case detection, management and referral; as well as health education and hygiene awareness through house-to-house visits. We also support Syrian refugees in neighboring countries. Learn more about the IRC’s Syria response.