• 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

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