On July 7, the UN Security Council (UNSC) will hold a vote on Resolution 2585, which authorizes the use of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, the only remaining available route for international aid into the besieged region of northern Syria. More than 4.2 million Syrians rely on aid supplied through the crossing, a number that has risen by nearly a million this year alone. Ahead of the vote, Houssam al-Nahhas, MD, MPH, Middle East North Africa researcher with Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and author of a new policy brief on the crossing’s critical role in providing life-saving aid, issued the following statement:
“This July, the UN Security Council will make a momentous decision to either continue flows of lifesaving aid for more than 4 million Syrians, or forfeit control of humanitarian aid into Syria to the Syrian government – the same regime that has systematically brutalized civilians, bombed hospitals, and obstructed health care to millions.
“The vote to reauthorize the Bab al-Hawa border crossing is a life or death decision for millions of Syrians who rely on the aid that flows through that crossing, including essential medicines, medical equipment, and other basic needs essential for survival. If the UNSC allows Resolution 2585 to expire on July 10, the closing of this border will force millions to face grave uncertainty and suffer severe human rights violations, including the right to health. Shuttering Bab al-Hawa would also deal a devastating blow to an already fragmented health care system.
“After the UNSC’s closing of the al-Yarubiyah crossing point in 2020, the health system in northeast Syria has struggled to meet the needs of residents, particularly in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. And while the UN and its partners deliver humanitarian aid to 2.4 million individuals monthly, those contributions fall far short of meeting the needs of 3.4 million people in northwest Syria.
“Should the UN Security Council vote to abruptly end the crossborder aid in northern Syria, an already catastrophic situation will be compounded. Long term strategies that provide permanent solutions to the lack of medical supplies and services in northern Syria and circumvent the corruption and retaliation of the Syrian government at cross-border checkpoints must be delivered to ensure access to adequate health care in the region.
“PHR calls on UNSC member states to renew the Bab al-Hawa crossing authorization for at least 12 months in order for NGOs and other humanitarian organizations to plan their programs in Syria. PHR also urges member states to reauthorize the Bab al-Salaam and al-Yarubiyah crossing points in order to ensure equal and adequate access to humanitarian aid for populations in need across northern Syria. Member States like the Russian Federation must not cruelly use the lives of millions of Syrians as bargaining chips to further their war objectives in Ukraine.
“The clock is running out on millions of Syrians whose lives are in jeopardy from the near collapse of the public health care system. Do not fail them before the buzzer sounds on July 10.”
Dr. al-Nahhas is a former emergency room physician in eastern Aleppo who has spent years on the frontline of health care response in Syria in various capacities. Dr. al-Nahhas himself has survived attacks on health care in Syria and today is a leading analyst on violence against health facilities and workers. His policy brief details the crossing’s critical role in providing life-saving aid, informed by testimony from more than 20 on-the-ground health and humanitarian professionals and organizations who work in the region.
PHR has independently corroborated attacks on health care facilities and personnel since the start of the Syrian civil war. Since March 2011, the Syrian government with the support of the Russian allies carried out at least 542 attacks on health care facilities, killed more than 940 health care providers, and arrested thousands of medical professionals.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.